EU members seek changes to privacy law

Four European Union member states want to amend the bloc's tough data privacy law, hoping to cut red tape and facilitate cross-border data transfers of information.

Four European Union member states are seeking changes to the bloc's tough data privacy law, hoping to cut red tape and facilitate cross-border data transfers.

In a position paper sent to the European Commission, Britain, Finland, Austria and Sweden said they wanted the directive to be amended to redress current imbalances and remove unnecessary bureaucratic requirements.

"The rules must give effective protection to individuals' personal data without unnecessarily restricting the processing needed to deliver the services which our increasingly technologically sophisticated society demands," the paper said. "The proposals seek to achieve a better balance between those two requirements than the directive currently does."

European Commission officials said the paper was sent two weeks ago along with comments from other member states and several interested parties.

Under the EU data protection directive, personal data ranging from sensitive medical records to phone numbers or e-mail addresses can be disclosed or transferred to third parties only with the individual's explicit consent.

The law, drafted before Internet use became as widespread as it is today, was expected to enhance privacy protection but has caused a headache for companies operating globally when they transfer data from one country to another.

U.S. companies have been particularly vocal against the EU law, which forces non-EU companies to match EU privacy standards.

"By imposing duplicative, burdensome and costly requirements particularly on global companies, (the EU laws) interfere with companies' ability to run their businesses effectively and efficiently," the Global Privacy Alliance said in a position paper.

The Global Privacy Alliance represents such companies as Citigroup, Fidelity Investments, General Motors, IBM and Oracle.

"At the same time, it is unclear if this approach provides any added privacy protection," the paper said.

The European Commission is looking into possible amendments to its privacy laws after an online survey showed broad dissatisfaction with the current regime.

But while business wants the EU to soften the law, European citizens said they felt the level of protection was inadequate, a survey involving more than 9,000 EU citizens showed.

Most respondents said they feared their data could be misused while they used the Internet, in particular when conducting online financial transactions.

The privacy rules have also put the EU at odds with the United States, as the bloc forbids data transfer to U.S. companies unless they make a formal pledge to respect EU laws.

But data transfer appears to be difficult even within the 15-nation European Union as the different countries have not implemented the law harmoniously.

Story Copyright  © 2002 Reuters Limited.  All rights reserved.

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