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Business Model vs. Fourth Amendment

Jay Stanley,
Senior Policy Analyst,
ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project
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February 4, 2013

I wrote recently about the U.S. government and companies lobbying against the EU’s attempt to strengthen their privacy laws, and our own efforts at the ACLU to advance high transnational privacy standards. Our efforts helped attract a round of press coverage of this unfolding drama (including stories in the New York Times and Washington Post). We’ve also written a letter along with other privacy groups to senior Obama Administration officials, asking for a meeting to discuss the issue.

In all the coverage of this issue on both sides of the Atlantic, one quote stands out. It’s from Jacob Kohnstamm, chairman of the Article 29 Working Group, which represents the privacy commissioners from all the EU member states. Saying European lawmakers were “fed up” with U.S. companies pressuring Europe to weaken their fundamental principles, he pointed out,

You’re not going to change your Fourth Amendment because of a business model in Europe are you? If such a lobby from the European side were organised towards Congress, we would be kicked out of there.

The quote succinctly captures so much of what’s wrong with what’s happening on this front. The only quibble I would have is Kohnstamm’s implication that what the U.S. lobbyists are trying to weaken are European privacy principles. They are also the principles that underlie American life, even if we haven’t yet given them expression in an overarching privacy law as the Europeans have, and even if they are at the moment being run roughshod over by some of today’s big companies.

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