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US and Europe move closer over online regulations

MEPs hop across the pond to discuss internet policy

A group of European Parliament members are in Washington this week to discuss with US regulators and lawmakers areas where the governments can come closer together on matters of internet policy.

The European group met with several US agencies including the Federal Communications Commission, Department of Commerce and Department of Justice, as well as Vice President Richard Cheney. The group's goal is to promote transatlantic communication on key internet issues such as privacy, security and intellectual property, said Arlene McCarthy, a European Parliament member from the UK.

"The purpose of this visit is to have a debate," McCarthy said. Expectations are not that the two approaches to internet policy will become identical, but that they can be compatible enough to help facilitate global commerce and enforcement. "The issue is not harmony, but outcome," McCarthy said.

Congressmen and members of the IT industry also joined the group for panel discussions on privacy and security, sponsored by the Congressional Internet Caucus, a bipartisan group of lawmakers working to promote internet education and tackle various issues.

While US lawmakers said their views differ from those of many Europeans on matters such as data privacy, they expressed an interest in working with their European counterparts. "For the last several years we've been building closer ties with the European Parliament," said Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia and co-chair of the caucus. "Our differences of opinion on privacy led to efforts to bridge that gap."

Among the many commerce issues that the two governments must work on together, "the internet is [one of the] only areas where good co-operation exists", said Erika Mann, a European Parliament member from Germany.

Nonetheless, there are a number of areas where the two governments' internet policies diverge, as Europe in general takes a more regulatory approach while the US favours market forces. For example, legislation has already been passed in Europe to strictly limit how spam and internet contact directories are used.

Under EU law, spam must almost always be offered as an 'opt-in' choice, meaning a consumer must give expressed consent to receive it, said Elly Plooij-van Gorsel, a European Parliament member from the Netherlands. Internet-based directories that list names and contact numbers must receive approval from consumers before including them, she added.

One point that representatives from both governments agreed on is the need to heighten information security without trampling on consumers' privacy rights.

"I think there is a sense of understanding that clearly we need balance to work together and find the right balance between security and privacy," Mann said.

Other issues the group will discuss include intellectual property and broadband.


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