U.S. Department of Commerce

Commerce and International Privacy Activities: Introduction and Summary of Findings

The rise of privacy as an issue of international attention has taken place during the past forty years. Various agencies of the US Government have played roles on international privacy matters, including the State Department, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Homeland Security, Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Commerce, and scattered other agencies. The privacy activities of these agencies have waxed and waned over the decades. Of the US agencies, the US Federal Trade Commission has played by far the most significant role in consumer privacy issues, for example, identity theft, financial privacy, and a host of issues related to privacy and fair business practices. Historically, the Department of Justice, primarily a law enforcement agency, has never played a significant role in consumer privacy. Indeed, in its law enforcement capacity, the Justice Department is often directly antagonistic to the protection of consumer privacy.

Commerce and International Privacy Activities: Findings

The Department of Commerce’s actions on international privacy matters have often been characterized by highly visible but ineffectively administered programs that lack rigor. As this report discusses, three separate studies show that many and perhaps most Safe Harbor participants are not in compliance with their obligations under the Safe Harbor Framework. The Department of Commerce has thus far carried out its functions regarding the Safe Harbor program without ensuring that organizations claiming to comply with the Safe Harbor requirements are actually doing so.

Commerce and International Privacy Activities: Early Years of Privacy at Commerce

The privacy responsibilities of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Department of Commerce originated with the establishment of a privacy coordinating committee by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 as part of a presidential privacy initiative. [4] The staff that carried out the work was transferred to NTIA at the time of its establishment in 1978. [5]

Commerce and International Privacy Activities: The US-EU Safe Harbor Agreement

With the adoption of the European Union’s Data Protection Directive [21] in 1995 and its implementation in 1998, much of the concern about transborder data flows of personal information centered on the export restriction policies of the Directive. Article 25 generally provides that exports of personal data from EU Member States to third countries are only allowed if the third country ensures an adequate level of protection. While some countries have been found to provide an adequate level of protection according to EU standards, the United States has never been evaluated for adequacy or determined to be adequate.

Commerce and International Privacy Activities: Safe Harbor Studies

 Report home | Read the report (PDF) | Previous section | Next section   Three studies of the Safe Harbor Framework were conducted since the start of Safe Harbor. The first study was conducted in 2001 at the request of the European Commission Internal Market DG [2001 Study]. [29] The second study, completed in 2004,