US tech outfits slammed for EU anti-privacy lobbying

A number of US NGOs and a pan-European industry group are speaking out against pressure from US lobbyists to relax EU privacy laws to suit Silicon Valley.

Chairman of the Industry Coalition for Data Protection, Jacom Hohnstamm, told the Financial Times that European lawmakers were fed up with US tech outfits trying to put their corporate interests ahead of EU legislation.

“You’re not going to change your fourth amendment because of a business model in Europe are you?” Mr Kohnstamm said. “If such a lobby from the European side were organised towards Congress, we would be kicked out of there.”

What’s more, a number of prominent US consumer and civil liberties organisations have also expressed their backing for new European privacy legislation. In a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of State John Kerry and US Ambassador to the EU William Kennard, the groups voiced their support for the EU effort to strengthen privacy protection.

Representatives of US NGOs recently visited Brussels and met with MEPs from across the political spectrum. The MEPs informed them that both the US government and US industry are mounting an unprecedented lobbying campaign to limit the protections that the new law would provide.

“We also found that the Europeans were excited to head a different view from the US,” NGO reps wrote. “We learned that Europeans and Americans have similar concerns about the need for privacy protection. We share a fundamental belief that Europe and the United States need to update their privacy laws.”

The NGOs also argued that US President Barack Obama shares an equally strong commitment to privacy protection. Obama set out a comprehensive privacy framework in February 2012, calling for more transparency, individual control over data collection, security and accountability.

However, back in January the US Mission to the EU wrote a document about the proposed privacy legislation, urging the EU to be more flexible about questions of consent from internet users and notification timelines for potential data breaches. The mission argued that any variations in US and EU law could impede transatlantic commerce and that interoperability of EU and US privacy regimes is critical to maintaining the successful economic relationship between Europe and the US.

US NGOs argue that privacy should not be viewed as partisan, but very few topics are non-partisan in the US nowadays. The extent of influence big business is able to exert on elected representatives in the post-Citizens United political landscape is immense, which means the NGOs and even sections of the Obama administration, are likely to face an uphill struggle.