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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Catching Up With European Privacy Law. NOT!

You have to read the article in the July 4, 2005, Newsweek, titled “Grand Theft Identity.” Along with some excellent pointers to prevent identity theft, including actual case studies, it features one of my favorite people in the fight to control your name and personal data. It’s Beth Givens, founder of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego, and you should visit their site often to help you protect your privacy.

So what does the Newsweek piece have to do with European Privacy Law? Just one more example of the huge deficit in this country in the protection against ID theft, and how the Europeans have taken one giant step to stop it there.

On the last page of the article, California Senator Dianne Feinstein states that she “…would like to give consumers the power to keep their records out of databases.” She goes on to indicate “ the opt-in approach is the law in Europe.” That’s the giant step. The European Union may not have been able to decide on a constitution, but they’ve done one hell of a job insuring the privacy of their citizens. It’s like this, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.

The law has been in effect since 1995 and, in ten years, there have been no widespread business losses, as far as I know. In the EU Data Protection Directive, the consumer must be given the choice to opt-out (which is basically opt-in, in reverse) of having business disclose their personal data or, using it for any purpose, other than that for which it was collected.

Further, an organization must give the consumer access to their private information, a stipulation that would probably horrify most junk mailers and data brokers in the U.S. There is no way they would want the American public to know just what and how much personal data has been collected on them. You can see another version of the law at the New England In-House site, a quarterly publication of Lawyers Weekly.

And then there’s the Law Blog from David Sorkin, a law professor in Chicago, who questions the Bush administration in pressuring European regulators to weaken their privacy standards. The President is worried about our financial institutions having difficulty conducting business abroad. I’m worried about our financial institutions having difficulty conducting business, without compromising our personal data, in the U.S. What about you?

Sorkin provides a link for the article: EU asked to tone down privacy standards. The whole idea is an insult to the American consumer and yet another example of how this administration favors business over the individual. Another piece, Congress fears European privacy standards, published just over three weeks earlier, apparently put Bush in motion when Cliff Stearns, R-Fla, called on him to take the matter up with the EU…quickly.

Both articles are dated (March of 2001), but show clear evidence where the Congress and the current administration are headed in protecting you against identity theft. And I say that, despite the recent ChoicePoint, LexisNexis, etc. incidents and the typical Congressional uproar that has resulted . Without pressure from grass roots efforts, Congress is not likely to enact legislation that would give you the giant step: the right to opt-in.

Although I admire the EU for the opt-in step, it still is not enough. We must pass a law that gives consumers 100% control over their names and personal data. If we can pull this off, maybe the EU will follow our lead.

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