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US diplomat warns of 'trade war' if 'right to be forgotten' proposals are followed through

The introduction of planned changes to EU data protection laws could herald a trans-Atlantic "trade war", a US diplomat has warned.04 Feb 2013

John Rodgers, economic Officer in the US Foreign Service, said that "things could really explode" if proposals that would provide individuals with a qualified 'right to be forgotten' are backed within the EU.

"We have a right to privacy in our Constitution, but this does not mean a fundamental right to data protection," Rodgers said at a conference in Berlin, according to a report by German publication Heise Online.

In January last year the European Commission unveiled proposals to reform EU data protection laws by introducing a draft General Data Protection Regulation. If enforced, it would introduce a single data protection law across all 27 EU member states, whilst companies that process personal data of EU citizens from outside the borders of the trading bloc, including in the US, would also be subject to the rules.

Under the draft Regulation individuals would enjoy a qualified 'right to be forgotten'. That right would enable them to force organisations to delete personal data stored about them "without delay". Organisations that have made the data public would be liable for the data published by third parties and would be required to "take all reasonable steps, including technical measures" to inform those groups to delete the information.

Organisations would be able to oppose the deletion of information if they could show they have a right to publish the data under the fundamental principle of freedom of expression or if it is in the public interest for the data to remain in existence.

Under current EU data protection laws the 'right to be forgotten' does exist in less defined terms in that organisations are generally required only to collect and store personal data that is strictly necessary and proportionate for its purposes. Individuals have the "right to obtain, at his request ... the rectification, erasure or blocking of data which are incomplete, inaccurate or stored in a way incompatible with the legitimate purposes pursued" by organisations that hold their personal data.

EU Justice Ministers recently considered whether the proposed 'right to be forgotten' framework is feasible. The Irish Presidency of the European Council asked the Ministers whether they support the Commission's 'right to be forgotten' plans and, if so, if it is "reasonable and feasible" for data controllers to comply with the obligations imposed by the right. The Ministers are expected to report back with their view next month.

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