US Consumer and Civil Liberties Groups Tell EU Policymakers to Enact Strongest Possible Privacy Safeguards

In the European Union, privacy is a fundamental Human Right. So it’s no surprise that leading EU officials are supporting (link is external) a proposal that place citizens and consumers in better control of their information (or, as its called in the EU, ensuring “data protection”). Many in the EU understand the stakes, as today’s digital tracking and profiling technologies enable far-reaching surveillance and influence on individuals. Online marketers, for example, have—in their own words—created a “360 degree” system to gather information on our actions, behaviors, location, relationships, etc. This information is placed in “profiles” which are built using a bevy of personal data and various mathematical algorithms that can be used to make predictions about us (whether, for example, we may be someone economically successful or not). Today, our privacy is further at risk, with marketers and others able to gather our geo-location data (where we are and where we go via our mobile devices); who are friends are and what they are doing (via Facebook and other social media); and where and what we spend (about to be made even more accessible with the growth of “digital wallets” and location-based payment services).

The European Commission has proposed, and EU Member of Parliament Jan Philipp Albrecht (link is external)has amended, legislation that creates the global standard for privacy protection. (Albrecht is on the key Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs –LIBE (link is external)—committee). The law would allow an individual to control “profiling” and surveillance done by others on them. This is the kind of safeguard that must threaten the US data collection industry (Google, Facebook, Yahoo and others). For example, the Commission’s draft explains that “…it should be ascertained whether individuals are tracked on the internet with data processing techniques which consist of applying a ‘profile’ to an individual, particularly in order to take decisions concerning her or him or for analysing or predicting her or his personal preferences, behaviours and attitudes.” Albrecht’s amended version ensures that individuals actually control whether information can be collected at all (“In order for processing to be lawful, personal data should be processed on the basis of the specific, informed and explicit consent of the person concerned.”). No wonder the US business lobby, with help from the Obama Administration, is engaged in a campaign to scuttle the EU proposal (Albrecht is quoted as saying the lobbying (link is external) campaign agains (link is external)t the EU privacy proposed law is very extensive).

A delegation of leading US NGOs representing consumer, privacy and civil liberties went to Brussels this week to meet with Members of the European Parliament. The US group included the ACLU, Consumer Federation of America, Friends of Privacy USA, CDD and others. Here are the materials we distributed; a Obama Administration document given to EDRI (link is external), the EU digital rights group, as part of the campaign to undermine support for the proposed stronger EU data protection proposals; and the EU privacy proposal and amendments.

US Administration and industry attempts to undermine the privacy rights of EU citizens also threaten online users throughout the world. What is needed is a meaningful standard for privacy protection that places people in charge of their information—not massive data brokers or governments. We plan to press the Obama Administration to stand up for privacy over the narrow interests of the digital data collection lobby.