On November 9, 2018, the European Commission (“the Commission”) submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) in response to its request for public comments on developing the administration’s approach to consumer privacy.

In its comments, the Commission welcomes and agrees with many of the high-level goals identified by NTIA, including harmonization of the legal landscape, incentivizing privacy research, employing a risk-based approach and creating interoperability at a global level. The Commission also welcomes that the key characteristics of a modern and flexible privacy regime (i.e., an overarching law, a core set of data protection principles, enforceable individual rights and an independent supervisory authority with effective enforcement powers) are also at the core of NTIA’s proposed approach to consumer privacy. The Commission structured its specific suggestions around these key characteristics.

In particular, the Commission makes specific suggestions around:

  • Harmonization: The Commission notes that overcoming regulatory fragmentation associated with an approach based on sectoral law in favor of a more harmonized approach would create a level playing field, and provide necessary certainty for organizations while ensuring consistent protection for individuals.
  • Ensuring Trust: The Commission recommends that ensuring trust should guide the development of the US privacy policy formulation, and notes that giving individuals more control over their data will increase trust levels with organizations and in turn result in a greater willingness to share data on the part of consumers.
  • Data Protection Principles: The Commission commends NTIA on the inclusion of certain core data protection principles such as reasonable minimization, security, transparency and accountability, but suggests the further explicit inclusion of other principles such as lawful data processing (i.e., the requirement to process data pursuant to a legal basis, such as consent), purpose specification, accuracy and specific protections for sensitive categories of data.
  • Breach Notification: The Commission suggests the specific inclusion of a breach notification requirement to enable individuals to protect themselves from and mitigate any potential harm that might result from a data breach. While there are already state breach notification laws in place, the Commission believes organizations and individuals could benefit from the harmonization of such rules.
  • Individual Rights: The Commission believes that any proposal for a privacy regime should go beyond the inclusion of only traditional individual rights, such as access and correction, and should include other rights regarding automated decision-making (e.g., the right to explanation or to request human intervention) and rights around redress (e.g., the right to lodge a complaint and have it addressed, and the right to effective judicial redress).
  • Oversight and Enforcement: The Commission notes that the effective implementation of privacy rules critically depends on having robust oversight and enforcement by an independent and well-resourced authority. In this regard, the Commission recommends strengthening the FTC’s enforcement authority, the introduction of mechanisms to ensure effective resolution of individual complaints and the introduction of deterrent sanctions.

The Commission notes in its response that while this consultation only covers a first step in a process that might lead to federal action, it stands ready to provide further comments on a more developed proposal in the future.

NTIA’s request for comments closed on November 9, 2018 and NTIA will post the comments it received online shortly.