The Edward Snowden revelations about government surveillance “have clearly impacted trans-Atlantic relations,” including commercial relations, and potentially imperil “our ability to get true interoperability” for data, according to Commissioner Julie Brill of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). She was speaking at the Technology Policy Institute's Aspen Forum on August 17.

The U.S.-EU Safe Harbor

The Commissioner sees “a tendency” to view what’s going on in Europe as stemming “from a fundamental desire to protect industries in the EU” and to “hold off the burgeoning American companies and their movement in to Europe and their strong market positions in Europe in order to allow European companies to grow and flourish.” Brill thinks that the charge of digital protectionism “is not only inaccurate, but unhelpful.”

She believes that European policymakers skittishness about continuing the Safe Harbor “stem from deep-rooted social and cultural differences… we just have different perspectives on some of these issues.”

Right now there are “some key openings,” Brill said, “for better interoperability and understanding,” with a new European Commission that “wants to move beyond” the Data Directive, and “national governments within Europe” who are considering a “much more nuanced perspective” when it comes to the Internet of Things, Big Data, and privacy, and much more in line with the FTC’s approach.

“In the United States, we have a very robust, very active privacy regime,” but it is “not as easy to understand as the European regime.” The U.S. has a “harm-based approach” in the relationship between consumers and companies, instead of a “rights-based approach.” Brill would like to see more of a rights-based approach, like the Europeans. “Our laws are not fundamentally the same or grounded in the same philosophy… but I do think they are coming together.”