Stand firm on data privacy

The EU's decision to back a report questioning the USA's willingness to protect personal data may cause delays in legislation, but will benefit user-privacy in the long run.



David Bicknell

E-business

The EU's decision to back a report questioning the USA's willingness to protect personal data may cause delays in legislation, but will benefit user-privacy in the long run

It may not go down well with the US, and it causes some uncertainty for businesses, but, on the whole, the decision of the European Parliament to approve a report questioning the US's willingness to protect personal data is a good thing.

It effectively means Safe Harbour will have to be renegotiated to enable more adequate safeguards to be put in place for the transfer of European citizens' data outside European boundaries (most often to the US).

This clearly makes sense if the job is to be done properly, even if that causes problems with US paralysis as it gets closer to choosing a new president. Maybe it is time to ask Messrs Bush and Gore what they think about this added part of their foreign policy portfolio.

If it took two years to get to the stage where the European Parliament had the chance to approve the accord, then it seems something of a breakthrough must have happened to enable it to take place.

But I see little evidence of this. OK, some European representatives went to the US, and they then came over to Europe. And the Federal Trade Commission changed its tune from backing self-regulation to legislation, but no legislation has been agreed, and the election is coming up. So, where is this great movement on access to data, and enforcement that has clinched a deal?

The fact is, there isn't any, and I suspect we have vague promises from US legislators that won't hold up when the first test case comes along.

But now the world has changed. Many experts in the US believe privacy is a problem that has received only passing attention in the UK, and they applaud the EU for taking a stand to guarantee its citizens' privacy.

The forthcoming negotiations might take another year or so. That is a concern, but ground-breaking work by the ICX user group on a privacy code of conduct will help businesses confused by these latest privacy ructions.

Stefano Rodota, president of the Italian Data Protection Authority, has suggested that the EU might even be better served by waiting for a new US administration.

Data exchanges can continue under the current system - dubbed "no rules and no major problems" - until the situation over enforcement and damages can be properly met.

As I have said here before, EU stand your ground. (And if the US doesn't like it - tough!).

Finding yourself under pressure? Too many meetings? No time for yourself or your family? Still working on that e-business strategy?

Don't worry, help is at hand. It seems the bricks and mortar world has recognised that too many meetings and late night calls equals a knackered workforce.

According to the Wall St Journal, US consumer goods maker SC Johnson decreed that twice a month there will be "no meeting days", with signs put up saying: "room sealed by order of no meeting day police".

Lengthy meetings mean staff take work home, have no time for their families, relationships fall apart, and subsequently they come back to work shattered.

Other firms' remedies for this include "thinking days" at Southwest Airlines, and at Hewlett Packard they have back-ups to allow staff to take uninterrupted holidays and Microsoft executives can have more time off.

The motto it seems is "a rested employee is vital to a company's business".

Does your boss know this?

Read more on Privacy and data protection

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