Monday, July 16, 2007

Safe Harbor Privacy Principles

Some privacy advocacy groups have made the claim (and others have repeated it) that Google doesn’t comply with any "well-established government and industry standards such as the OECD Privacy Guidelines." That’s just plain incorrect. Google complies with the robust privacy requirements of the US-EU Safe Harbor Agreement, as disclosed in its Privacy Policy.

The Safe Harbor privacy principles are generally considered to exceed the requirements of the OECD Privacy Guidelines, since they were designed to provide an equivalent level of privacy protection to the laws of the European Union.
As a reminder, here are the privacy principles of the Safe Harbor Agreement:


Organizations must comply with the seven safe harbor principles. The principles require the following:

Organizations must notify individuals about the purposes for which they collect and use information about them. They must provide information about how individuals can contact the organization with any inquiries or complaints, the types of third parties to which it discloses the information and the choices and means the organization offers for limiting its use and disclosure.
Organizations must give individuals the opportunity to choose (opt out) whether their personal information will be disclosed to a third party or used for a purpose incompatible with the purpose for which it was originally collected or subsequently authorized by the individual. For sensitive information, affirmative or explicit (opt in) choice must be given if the information is to be disclosed to a third party or used for a purpose other than its original purpose or the purpose authorized subsequently by the individual.
Onward Transfer (Transfers to Third Parties)
To disclose information to a third party, organizations must apply the notice and choice principles. Where an organization wishes to transfer information to a third party that is acting as an agent(1), it may do so if it makes sure that the third party subscribes to the safe harbor principles or is subject to the Directive or another adequacy finding. As an alternative, the organization can enter into a written agreement with such third party requiring that the third party provide at least the same level of privacy protection as is required by the relevant principles.
Individuals must have access to personal information about them that an organization holds and be able to correct, amend, or delete that information where it is inaccurate, except where the burden or expense of providing access would be disproportionate to the risks to the individual's privacy in the case in question, or where the rights of persons other than the individual would be violated.
Organizations must take reasonable precautions to protect personal information from loss, misuse and unauthorized access, disclosure, alteration and destruction.
Data integrity
Personal information must be relevant for the purposes for which it is to be used. An organization should take reasonable steps to ensure that data is reliable for its intended use, accurate, complete, and current.
In order to ensure compliance with the safe harbor principles, there must be (a) readily available and affordable independent recourse mechanisms so that each individual's complaints and disputes can be investigated and resolved and damages awarded where the applicable law or private sector initiatives so provide; (b) procedures for verifying that the commitments companies make to adhere to the safe harbor principles have been implemented; and (c) obligations to remedy problems arising out of a failure to comply with the principles. Sanctions must be sufficiently rigorous to ensure compliance by the organization. Organizations that fail to provide annual self certification letters will no longer appear in the list of participants and safe harbor benefits will no longer be assured.

While the Safe Harbor Agreement principles were designed as a framework for companies to comply with European-inspired privacy laws, the OECD Guidelines from the year 1980 were designed as a framework for governments to create privacy legislation.,2340,en_2649_34255_1815186_1_1_1_1,00.html
The US has chosen to not (yet) implement those principles into its Federal legislation. As a public policy matter, in the US, Google is working with other leading companies to encourage the development of robust Federal consumer privacy legislation.
I’ll come back to the issue of US Federal and global privacy standards again soon. The global nature of data flows on the Internet requires renewed focus on the need for global privacy standards. I hope privacy advocates will work with us on that.

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