Blown To Bits

An international wrinkle on the YouTube order

Friday, July 4th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

The data about YouTube viewing that Google must turn over to Viacom, described in yesterday’s post, includes data from all over the world. So the viewing habits of individual Frenchmen and Italians will be there for the analyzing. A nice piece of reporting by Bloomberg’s Stephanie Bodoni points out an interesting side-effect of the judge’s order: it may breach some important and delicate international trade agreements.

As discussed in Chapter 2 of Blown to Bits, privacy standards in the EU are higher than privacy standards in the US, where free expression rights (happy Independence Day, everyone) tend to trump privacy rights. This creates a problem for the transfer of personal information out of the EU to the US. While the US government never signed on to EU privacy rules, a “safe harbor” was created for individual American businesses that could certify their compliance with European standards. US businesses with multinational operations have to demonstrate their compliance with seven principles for handling personal information, including security, access controls, and the like, in order to be able to import personal information about Europeans.

The judge’s order that Google must turn over that personal information to another US company, whatever deal Google may have struck with the EU, is a breach in these international privacy agreements. And the Europeans are gearing up to complain.

One has to wonder whether the judge was aware of the international dimensions of his order, or didn’t care about them.

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