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Fred H. Cate
IU Maurer School of Law

James Boyd
IU Maurer School of Law
(812) 856-1497

Last modified: Friday, May 7, 2010

Cate urges Department of Commerce action on privacy at Washington symposium

May 7, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Government action, specifically on the part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, must play a critical role in the development and implementation of global privacy regulations, according to an Indiana University Maurer School of Law Distinguished Professor.

Speaking at a Department of Commerce symposium on privacy and innovation this morning (May 7) in Washington, D.C., Fred H. Cate said current events make this an opportune time to act. At issue is the divide between goods and services -- many utilizing sensitive data -- and the duty to protect that information with the differing local, national, and international laws that regulate the flow of such products and data.

"Privacy restrictions are imposing real impediments, not just to trade but to products and services that consumers want and expect," Cate said. "As technologies are making our world smaller and bringing us closer together, divergent privacy laws are driving us farther apart."

Cate, whose remarks were preceded by a talk by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, outlined seven key points the department should consider going forward.

  • Privacy laws that impose barriers to trade are spreading throughout Europe, Canada, Asia and other parts of the world.
  • Though increased privacy regulation may have the biggest impact on information products and services, it is not limited to those areas. Conflicting privacy regimes are imposing burdens across society, and will become more cumbersome as technology advances.
  • Uncertainty surrounding critical data flows is just as troublesome as restrictive laws. Businesses and consumers need certainty.
  • The Department of Commerce is ideally suited to represent the U.S. in international privacy data protection discussions.
  • To gain credibility at such discussions, the U.S. must do a better job of updating and explaining its own national privacy laws.
  • Congress needs to impose substantive limits on the power of U.S. government agencies to access private-sector and personal data if the nation is to be taken seriously by other countries with more advanced data protection laws.
  • With intellectual and political data protection regulations developing quickly across the globe, this is a critical time for the U.S. to act and respond to approaches in global data protection.

"There is at present a great deal of intellectual and political foment surrounding data protection around the globe," Cate said. "The European Union data protection directive is under review. The Federal Trade Commission and Department of Commerce are conducting independent privacy inquiries. There is evidence of new collaboration among Data Protection Authorities and emerging agreement on enforcement."

Still, he noted, "for all of these new laws, it is difficult to argue that individual privacy is better protected privacy today than it was in 1980."

Cate, an internationally recognized privacy expert, is a Distinguished Professor, C. Ben Dutton Professor of Law, and director of the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University.