Privacy Advisor

Commerce’s Kerry: Privacy Regulation Should Not Be Barrier to Trade

April 1, 2013

By Sam Pfeifle
Publications Director

Delayed for a month due to the blizzard of 2013, General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Commerce Cameron Kerry finally got a chance to keynote a well-attended data privacy seminar in his home state of Massachusetts on March 25. Before about 60 people, he advocated for the fundamental underpinnings of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights and the general privacy blueprint he’s helped craft as co-chair of the Internet Policy Task Force and the National Science and Technology Council’s Subcommittee on Commercial Data Privacy.

Kerry noted, “President Obama’s eloquent statement that privacy is embedded in American values and American law, starting with our Bill of Rights, and enshrined in a broad range of laws in specific sectors,” but also said, “We can do better.”

By the thrust of his comments, it was clear he not only felt improvement could be found in better protections for consumers—advocating for “respect for context, access to personal data…focused collection…(and) accountability”—but also in finding more common ground with the EU.

“A number of the practices,” Kerry said, “that the EU has proposed—the use of CPOs, impact statements, data breach laws—are things that have been widely adopted in the U.S.”

However, he said, “We have expressed concerns about ways that their legislation may hinder efforts at interoperability by proposing things that are not technologically or commercially feasible.” He said the EU’s current direction could lead to a place where the EU is dictating standards rather than allowing a public-private process to form those standards based on agreed-upon principles.

“It’s critical that they not rush this process,” Kerry said, “that they understand the complexity and the broad impact it will have, the risk of unforeseen consequences to consumers as well as innovation and to growth. Ultimately, we share the same goals. We share the same founding principles…We need to build on that. We need to be sure as we move forward that we come closer together and that our systems can work together, that we do not make regulation of privacy, regulation relating to the Internet, a new set of non-tariff barriers to trade.”

Nor is that trade a minor matter. Kerry noted as many as 15 million jobs rely on U.S.-EU trade. Later in the seminar, Department of Commerce Safe Harbor Administrator Christopher Hoff put the trade figure at $783 billion annually.

“It’s critical that we make these systems work together,” Kerry said.