Last week U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, William Kennard, addressed Forum Europe’s 3rd Annual European Data Protection and Privacy Conference, and responded to the myth that the U. S. system of government access to information is a threat to the privacy rights of citizens of the other countries. He was especially effective in rebutting concerns directed at cloud computing, where the misconception has developed that information stored in cloud computing servers can be accessed by the U.S. government without any effective privacy controls.
His intervention is a welcome attempt to set the record straight before these erroneous beliefs become widespread and entrenched. It was accompanied the release of State Department white paper that dispels the misconceptions about the U.S. legal system and government access to information.
The fact is that the U.S. has a well-developed and established system to protect individual liberties from government intrusion. We have a general distrust of a powerful government and are suspicious of anything that advances the growth of government power. Our bias is in favor of a limited government that lets people chose their own good in their own way. As a result we are far less tolerant of government intrusion into our private lives than other countries, and have set up a system whereby the U.S. extends privacy protections to non-U.S. citizens as well.
At the same time, the U.S. is more tolerant of the use of information for innovative and productive use by businesses than other countries, to our great advantage in the race for economic growth, business development and job creation. Our system of protecting the individual privacy in the business context shows that this can be done while maintaining strong and effective protections for consumer privacy. This system also respects the rights of non-U.S. consumers established in other privacy regimes.
None of this means that the U.S. system is perfect. We think that steps can be taken to improve the consumer privacy system for mobile app notifications and are actively working with the U.S. Commerce Department and other stakeholders on a voluntary code of conduct and an effective system of screen notices. We have joined with others in the Digital Due Process Coalition to modernize the 1986 U.S. Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which needs updating to fit the realities of email and document storage in the cloud.
But the need for these reforms does not suggest that the current U.S. system is a threat to privacy or justifies a move away from cloud computing as a way to avoid government scrutiny. Ambassador Kennard is to be commended for his strong defense of the U.S. approach to privacy in the cloud.
Mark MacCarthy, Vice President, Public Policy at SIIA, directs SIIA’s public policy initiatives in the areas of intellectual property enforcement, information privacy, cybersecurity, cloud computing and the promotion of educational technology. Follow the SIIA Public Policy team on Twitter at @SIIAPolicy