• Microsoft CEO Pushes For Major US-EU Privacy Agreement

    Microsoft President and chief legal officer Brad Smith called for a fundamental shift in America’s approach to privacy this week, proposing a new trans-Atlantic agreement between the U.S. and Europe.

    Smith’s proposed agreement would extend citizens’ privacy rights outside their country of residence, so that their information would be protected even if it crosses international borders. The U.S. would agree to abide by European privacy laws when dealing with the information of European residents, and vice versa.

    “Privacy is a timeless value that deserves to endure,” Smith wrote in a blog post Tuesday. “But privacy rights cannot endure if they change every time data moves from one location to another. Individuals should not lose their fundamental rights simply because their personal information crosses a border.” (RELATED: Twitter, Other Tech Juggernauts Choose Privacy Over New Cybersecurity Bill)

    The challenge for Europeans is to determine whether their “citizens continue to have privacy protection that is ‘essentially equivalent’ to the rights that apply at home after their personal information crosses the Atlantic,” Smith wrote.

    Therefore, he proposed that an individual’s legal rights should move with their data. (RELATED: Microsoft Lays Off Thousands While Demanding More H1-B Visas)

    Both the US and Europe would agree to two provisions under Smith’s proposal. First, the government requesting information could only demand access to information that is stored within the boundaries of the requesting nation. Second, since the information would still belong to a foreign national, the collection of that information must conform with laws of the foreign national’s home country.

    America would extend this courtesy to Europe and Europe would reciprocate. The only exception to this pact would be for foreign citizens who physically reside in the requesting country. In that case, the only laws that must be adhered to are those of the requesting country.

    Smith also said the Internet must stay globally interconnected and prioritize public safety.

    A restriction on the global nature of the internet would be a “return to the digital dark age,” he said. If data is restricted, consumers could have trouble with everyday things such as online purchases or airplane tickets.

    But Smith made it clear he’s not placing privacy over the need for safety. Protecting the public is the government’s preeminent responsibility, he said, and Europeans and Americans are in greater danger than in years past.

    The post by Smith comes after a ruling on Oct. 6 by the European Court of Justice, the continent’s highest court, which invalidated the the Safe Harbor transatlantic data-transfer deal.

    The Safe Harbor pact facilitated the transfer of personal information for thousands of European companies to America. About 4,500 US companies were also using the scheme. The court ruled the provision violates the privacy rights of Europeans by exposing them to vast surveillance by the U.S. government and without any legal protection for Europeans in American courts.

    Follow Steve Ambrose on Twitter

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