U.S., EU to Meet on Data Privacy

The U.S. government has invited representatives from European Union countries to Washington D.C. next week to work out an agreement on data privacy before their self-imposed March deadline.

European officials will meet Jan. 17 and 18 with U.S. government officials, members of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and private industry groups, a U.S. official told the IDG News Service today.

The EU representatives are all members of the so-called Article 31 Committee set up by the European data privacy directive to determine whether third-country data privacy rules meet EU standards. The EU data privacy directive, which went into effect in 1998, prohibits transmission of data to countries outside the EU that do not meet the EU privacy standards.

There is controversy in the EU regarding whether the U.S. voluntary "safe harbor" guidelines for consumers' data privacy meet the EU standards.

Next week, "the (EU) committee members will be able to meet first-hand those people who will make the safe harbor principles work," said the U.S. official, who asked not to be named.

The EU committee will meet back in Brussels on Jan. 24 and 25 to discuss their findings and, on the basis of this discussion, EU and U.S. negotiators will probably meet sometime in early February for another round of negotiations.

The U.S. and EU have currently set March 31 as the new target date for reaching an agreement on the issue.

The EU privacy directive remains the source of a trans-Atlantic disagreement that has been simmering for nearly four years, but particularly since October 1998, when the 15 EU countries should have introduced the legislation into national law. Even within the EU, however, not all countries have effectively implemented the directive. (See "EC Takes Countries to Court on Data Privacy," Jan. 14.)

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