US privacy, consumer groups back EU's proposed privacy rules

The groups also give recommendations for strengthening the EU privacy proposal

Twenty-two U.S. privacy and consumer groups have voiced support for a tough online privacy proposal being considered by the European Union, even though some U.S. businesses and government officials have described the proposal as too regulatory.

The proposal "provides important new protections for the privacy and security of consumers," the groups wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to members of the European Parliament."We believe that the promotion of stronger privacy standards in Europe will benefit consumers around the globe, as businesses improve their privacy practices and security standards."

The E.U. proposal could become the global standard for privacy protections online, said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, one of the U.S. groups supporting the regulation. That's why the U.S. government and our commercial interests are so alarmed," he said in an email. "U.S. businesses would rather dismiss privacy concerns ... even though they have created a powerful system of commercial surveillance on consumers."

Some members of President Barack Obama's administration and some U.S. business groups have questioned the data privacy proposal. The proposal "errs too far in the direction of imposing prescriptive mandates for how enterprises must collect, store, and manage information," Thomas Boué, European director of government affairs for the Business Software Alliance, said in January. "The risk in the proposal's current design is that it will bog down companies with onerous compliance obligations, which could inhibit digital innovation at the expense of job creation and growth."

Despite the opposition, the privacy and consumer groups, including Consumers Union, Privacy Rights Now, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Public Citizen, called for the E.U. to strengthen the privacy protections in the proposal.

The E.U. should limit the number of compliance exceptions in the proposed General Data Protection Regulation, promote greater transparency in data practices and strengthen the public's right to data portability, the groups said. The proposal should also limit the scope of information online businesses can collect through "legitimate interests," the groups said.

The seven recommendations in Wednesday's letter point out potential weaknesses in the proposal, said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection at the Consumer Federation of America.

"I would describe our recommendations as urging the E.U. to clarify and tighten up some of the provisions to avoid creating loopholes and actually weakening the privacy protection that the regulation seeks to provide," she said in an email.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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