EU official: New US privacy law won't copy European regime

WASHINGTON — One of the European officials in charge of a tough data privacy law says legislation now poised to emerge in the U.S. won't be a copy of the EU's regime and will reflect American cultural values.

Vera Jourova, the European Union's consumer commissioner, also said Friday she assured U.S. tech industry executives during a visit to Washington that the EU's sweeping "privacy shield" law will be "future-proof" and won't hinder innovations such as the development of artificial intelligence.

Jourova met with Trump administration officials and U.S. lawmakers, making the case that now that Europe has acted, the U.S. must move to protect the privacy of consumers' data.

"I would like to see the law in the United States as soon as possible," she told reporters.

She is modestly optimistic that legislation will be enacted by Congress and signed into law, Jourova said.

Her visit came as momentum is building in Washington for a national privacy law that could sharply rein in the ability of the largest tech companies to collect and make money from people's personal data. A federal law, the first of its kind in the U.S., could allow people to see or prohibit the use of their data. Companies would need permission to release such information.

At the same time, technology is galloping ahead. At a White House event Friday, President Donald Trump said the race to build 5G high-speed wireless networks is one the U.S. must win. The Federal Communications Commission said it will hold a massive auction to bolster 5G service, the next generation of mobile networks, with the government planning to spend $20 billion to expand broadband access in rural areas. The U.S. is jockeying for position with China over 5G.

Behind the drive for a national privacy law is rising concern over the compromise of private data held by Facebook, Google and other tech giants that have reaped riches by aggregating consumer information.

Jourova had discussions with key senators working on privacy legislation, tech industry executives and the head of the Federal Trade Commission, Joseph Simons.

"We are fully at the disposal of the American legislators to give this feedback and experience" with the 10-month-old EU privacy law, she said Friday. "I fully recognize that the federal law, if there will be one, will not be copy-and-paste. This is another culture, another society; the citizens may want to see different solutions. It's fully in the hands of the American legislators."

Jourova said questions came from senators and industry officials regarding the impact of the EU law on small and startup businesses, on citizens' ability to exercise their new privacy rights and on whether it will hinder innovation.

"Our answer to this is (the EU law) tries to be future-proof and cover the new situations in the world of technologies which consume citizens' data," she said. "We have the principle that the data can be used for research and business and artificial intelligence" after they are made anonymous.

Earlier this week, after discussions with European officials, Facebook changed the fine print in its terms of service to clearly explain to users that it makes money by using their data. The social media giant modified its terms and conditions to better inform users what they are signing up for, clearly explaining how it uses the data it collects on users to develop profiling activities and target advertising to score profits.

The EU regulators stepped up scrutiny of Facebook's terms after the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal, in which data on 87 million Facebook users was allegedly improperly harvested. The regulators also want tech companies to bring their terms in line with European consumer law.

Asked for her assessment of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's recent call for tighter regulations to protect consumer data, Jourova said Friday that "whatever strong declarations, whatever commitments and declarations, ... we need to see real action."

"This can only be done by checking whether they are investigating the complaints of the people, following the cases, and this is the job of the data-protection authorities in the EU," she said.

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