US Government Busy in Europe Defending Interests of Advertisers, Security Agencies, But Not Americans' Privacy
My colleague Ben Wizner and I are in Brussels this week, partly to meet with European lawmakers and others about the new privacy regime that the EU is in the process of putting into place. Unlike the United States, Europe has a set of basic rules and institutions in place to protect individuals’ privacy, and is trying to update its existing rules and institutions for the digital age.
The United States needs similar protections—a basic, overarching privacy law, and institutions with the teeth to enforce it. We are an outlier in the world in lacking those things. However, some U.S. companies seem to be terrified at the prospect of basic, fair privacy rules being put into place in Europe. Not only are companies such as Facebook and Google furiously lobbying against those rules, but the U.S. government has “shocked” Europeans by also lobbying hard against many elements of this update.
The sad fact is that the United States has gotten out of balance. Harmonization is necessary for many reasons—law enforcement agencies need to cooperate across the Atlantic, and we want businesses to work smoothly across markets. But in the United States, the political power of business—which, as historians have written, has always waxed and waned throughout our history—is probably now at an all-time high, distorting our pursuit of the public good in favor of corporate interests. And our national security establishment is enormous and bloated, protected by a shield of unchecked secrecy, endowed with dangerous new powers, and wields a dangerous influence on American public policy.
The job of the U.S. government abroad is to protect the interests of Americans. In Europe, instead of protecting the basic, long-term interests of its citizens, our government is protecting the narrow, short-term business interests of some companies. The U.S. is arguing that harmonization is critical—but we don’t see the administration lobbying Congress to strengthen American privacy laws—only to weaken Europeans’.