How the US Is Playing Both Ends on Data Privacy
There’s an excellent article in Foreign Affairs on how the European insistence on data privacy—most recently illustrated by their invalidation of the “safe harbor” agreement—is really about the US talking out of both sides of its mouth on the issue: championing privacy in public, but spying on everyone in private. As long as the US keeps this up, the authors argue, this issue will get worse.
From the conclusion:
The United States faces a profound choice. It can continue to work in a world of blurred lines and unilateral demands, making no concessions on surveillance and denouncing privacy rights as protectionism in disguise. Yet if it does so, it is U.S. companies that will suffer.
Alternatively, it can recognize that globalization comes in different flavors and that Europeans have real and legitimate problems with ubiquitous U.S. surveillance and unilateralism. An ambitious strategy would seek to reform EU and U.S. privacy rules so as to put in place a comprehensive institutional infrastructure that could protect the privacy rights of European and U.S. citizens alike, creating rules and institutions to restrict general surveillance to uses that are genuinely in the security interests of all the countries.
More broadly, the United States needs to disentangle the power of a U.S.-led order from the temptations of manipulating that order to its national security advantage. If it wants globalization to continue working as it has in the past, the United States is going to have to stop thinking of flows of goods and information as weapons and start seeing them as public goods that need to be maintained and nurtured. Ultimately, it is U.S. firms and the American economy that stand to benefit most.
EDITED TO ADD (1/13): Stewart Baker on the same topic.
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