28 July 2000

A major hurdle for the development of international e-commerce was cleared yesterday when the European Commission approved the standard of data protection for information provided by citizens of the European Union to US-owned websites.

A long-time stumbling block between the EC and the US, the issue of transferring internet-originated data across the Atlantic has been resolved by the so-called ‘safe harbor’ principle. Participation in the scheme is optional and its rules binding only on those US companies that opt to join – although compliance is backed up by law enforcement powers.

Commented Frits Bolkestein, EC Internal Market Commissioner: “The decision on the 'safe harbor' agreement provides a framework within which personal data transferred to the US will be better protected, while at the same time making transfers simpler for both EU and US businesses.”

Under recently-enacted EU law, companies can gain access to personal data only when individuals consent, are informed about how their data will be used and are able to correct any errors in information collected about them. The ‘safe harbor’ agreement is expected to be in place by November.

News source: Wall Street Journal