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European Commission accepts American "safe harbor" rules

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         BRUSSELS         Freedom of Information         Aug 9, 2000    

European Commission accepts American “safe harbor” rules

  • U.S. businesses will be able to trade information with businesses in European Union countries after acceptance of a U.S. proposal on how businesses will exchange personal data.

Voluntary agreement to accept a privacy protection code for personal information will allow U.S. businesses to exchange data with businesses in countries belonging to the European Union under a “safe harbor” agreement accepted July 27 by the European Commission.

However, the agreement has an exception for journalistic material: Personal information that is gathered for publication, broadcast or other forms of public communication of journalistic material, whether used or not, as well information found in previously published material disseminated from media archives, is not subject to the requirements of the safe harbor principles.

There is also an exception allowing transfer of public record information even if it includes personal information.

In 1998 the European Union passed a data-privacy law that gives member countries the right to refuse to exchange data with countries which do not have privacy laws that protect personal information to the extent it is protected in European countries.

European Union countries and the United States negotiated for two years before the commission approved the safe harbor agreement. It essentially requires a U.S. organization hoping to trade with those countries to inform individuals of the purposes for which it collects personal information, to collect only relevant information, to allow individuals to access and amend information held about them, and to disclose information to others only with permission of the individuals concerned. .

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Newspaper Association of America and the Magazine Publishers of America wrote to the chief negotiator as various drafts of the safe harbor agreement were developed. Several public interest organizations representing consumer and privacy interests had urged that the U.S. enact stronger controls on the use of personal information.

Initially news organizations pointed out that the First Amendment limits the controls that the U.S. government can put on speech even when that speech is about individuals.

In mid-July the European Parliament recommended that the European Commission reject the safe-harbor agreement and require the U. S. to enact more stringent privacy controls in order to transfer data with EU countries, but the Commission did not adopt that position.


© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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