E.U. official unimpressed by U.S. Internet privacy initiatives

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A European Union official accused the United States of taking a less aggressive stance on Internet privacy and called out Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for changing tack on their proposed Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights (.pdf).

"The senators made clear that a federal law is necessary to ensure the protection of privacy in the United States...[Now,] I have been told that only voluntary codes of conduct based on multi-stakeholder consultations are envisaged," said Viviane Reding, vice president of the European Commission and justice commissioner of the European Union.

"I am worried that U.S. 'self-regulation' will not be sufficient to achieve full interoperability between the E.U. and U.S.," she said. Reding spoke Dec. 6 at the 2nd Annual European Data Protection and Privacy Conference in Brussels, Belgium.

Reding reminded attendees that American and E.U. officials have been negotiating a data protection agreement for some time, related to information sharing for law enforcement and security purposes. She said both entites need to "achieve substantial progress" in order to close negotiations. "I hope we will manage to do it," said Reding.

Businesses would also benefit from consistent information protections across the Atlantic, she said. "Just yesterday I read about a Swedish [cloud computing] company whose selling point is that they shelter users from the U.S. Patriot Act and other attempts by third countries to access personal data...We need free flow of data between our continents. And it doesn't make much sense for us to retreat from each other," said Reding.

Next month, Reding plans to propose a new European data protection law, updating a 1995 directive to better accommodate new technological challenges. The new data protection law would make it easier access to one's own data and would improve data portability, said Reding. It would also establish the right to be forgotten, she said. This would allow users to have their information removed if they do not want their data stored.

"I hope our reform of data protection rules in the E.U. can be an inspiration for such changes in the U.S. and elsewhere," said Reding.

For more:
- read Reding's speech

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