Obama Administration Wants Privacy Rule to Work Worldwide

The U.S. Department of Commerce is pushing for privacy rules that work on a global scale. The department’s general counsel stressed the need for comprehensive data privacy legislation to influence privacy regulations across international borders, in part to ensure business innovation and trade is not hampered by privacy rules.

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Speaking at today’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing on “Privacy and Data Security: Protecting Consumers in the Modern World,” Cameron Kerry (left), general counsel for the Obama administration’s Commerce Department, reiterated the department’s support for comprehensive privacy legislation.

“I can report to you that comprehensive legislation will send a strong message of U.S. leadership that could form a model for partners, help prevent fragmentation of the world’s privacy laws and undue restrictions on businesses that conduct international trade,” said Kerry, a witness at the hearing. Representatives of the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission also spoke as witnesses on the panel.

Kerry said members of the DOC met with European data privacy commissioners in Budapest two weeks ago.

“This is an area where congressional action can have a significant impact,” said Kerry regarding data privacy and the ability for U.S. legislation to influence regulations worldwide.

However, always sensitive to business concerns, the department emphasizes the need for any new privacy laws to make room for industry to innovate and account for existing self-regulatory programs. “Legislation shouldn’t add duplicative or overly burdensome regulatory requirements to businesses that already adhere to strong privacy principles or are subject to existing sectoral regimes.”

The DOC’s commercial data privacy report published in December also recognized the need for an international approach. “The U.S. Government should work with our allies and trading partners to promote low-friction, cross-border data flow through increased global interoperability of privacy frameworks.” The report signaled support for self-regulation, encouraging development of voluntary, enforceable privacy codes of conduct for particular industries. It also suggested that a new DOC division could serve as a hub for efforts among stakeholders and the FTC.

In 2009, the European Union passed privacy regulations calling for national governments to ensure that consumers are able to give consent before cookies are placed on their machines. The U.K. has delayed enforcement of the rule.

Also in his address to lawmakers today, Kerry suggested that legislation should be “Technology neutral” to accommodate for unforeseen platforms and technologies.

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