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MS signs up for European privacy ‘Safe Harbor’ scheme

Policies entirely consistent already, claims a spoke

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Microsoft is to sign up for the Safe Harbour data protection agreement between the US and the European Union, according to an announcement made by company director of corporate privacy (oh yes, there is one) Richard Purcell in Brussels today.

Purcell says Microsoft is able to sign the agreement because "our company privacy policies are consistent with the EU principles for data protection." Of course there's also the small matter of US organisations dealing with data on European citizens being subject to EU enforcement measures if they don't sign, but to be fair Microsoft does mention that in the release.

The agreement itself is a compromise stemming from US-EU wrangles over the European Directive on Data Privacy. This requires that companies exporting data on EU citizens meet EU privacy protection standards. As the US Department of Commerce says:

"The United States uses a sectoral approach that relies on a mix of legislation, regulation, and self regulation. The European Union, however, relies on comprehensive legislation that, for example, requires creation of government data protection agencies, registration of data bases with those agencies, and in some instances prior approval before personal data processing may begin. As a result of these different privacy approaches, the Directive could have significantly hampered the ability of US companies to engage in many trans-Atlantic transactions."

That's without Safe Harbour/Harbor, of course. This deal allows US companies to register and get certified as clean, without it being necessary for the US itself to change it's current approach to privacy protection. Some might describe this as overly relaxed, we make no comment.

For the record, here's the checklist of things companies signing have to promise to be good about. It's straight out of the Microsoft release, so the company must surely know what it's getting into:

Notice Notice involves informing online and offline users, in a clear and conspicuous manner, about the purpose(s) for which information about them is collected and used; the choice mechanism(s) available for limiting use and transfer; the types of third parties to which data is transferred; and how to contact the organization for inquiries or complaints.
Choice Choice involves offering users a clear and conspicuous opt-out mechanism for any secondary uses of data and for disclosures to third parties. Opt-in choice must be available for sensitive information such as medical or health conditions, race or ethnic origins, political opinions, or religious or philosophical beliefs.
Access Access involves ensuring that individuals can obtain reasonable access to personal information about them held by the organization. With some exceptions, organizations must provide consumers with the ability to correct, amend or delete information that is inaccurate.
Security Security ensures that an organization takes reasonable precautions to protect personal information from loss, misuse, unauthorized access, unauthorized disclosure, unauthorized alteration and unauthorized destruction. This involves technologies such as encryption, access controls and physical security of the data.
Enforcement The enforcement mechanism requires the existence of a readily available and affordable independent recourse for individuals, as well as consequences for the organization when the principles are not followed.
Onward transfer Onward transfer dictates that an organization disclosing personal data to a third party must adhere to the Notice and Choice principles, unless the third party is acting as an agent of the company; and either the third party specifies, by way of a contract, that it provides at least the same level of protection as is required by the relevant principles, or the third party subscribes to the Safe Harbour Principles or is subject to the EU directive or another adequacy finding by the EU.
Data integrity Data integrity means that personal information collected must be relevant to the purposes stated in the notice, and that reasonable steps should be taken to ensure that the data is reliable, accurate, complete and current. ®

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