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Closing Remarks by Michelle O'Neill

Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade

Closing Remarks by Michelle O’Neill

Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade

International Conference on Cross Border Data Flows,
Data Protection, and Privacy
Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007

As prepared

On behalf of the U.S. Department of Commerce, thank you Peter (Schaar) for joining us in the first of what we hope will become an annual meeting on Cross Border Data Flows and how we manage personal data in a borderless digital world.

I would also like to thank our colleagues at the European Commission and the Article 29 Working Party for partnering with the Department of Commerce and the Federal Trade Commission in hosting this conference. Their preparation, cooperation and hard work were essential to the success of this conference.

I would also like to thank our stakeholders – the private sector, privacy advocates, consumer representatives – some of whom traveled great distances, all of whom left overflowing inboxes and email boxes to inform our discussions. They are really the reason why we are here. Their interest in balancing privacy with efficient data transfers between the United States and Europe helps form the basis for our continuing agenda, and challenges us to find solutions.

As a result of our discussions this week, we have deepened our common understanding of the implications our work has on businesses and consumers in our societies. The evolution of information technologies has led to new business models and the increased need to exchange information among businesses and consumers, but has also presented some policy challenges.

As mentioned earlier in the conference, information is everywhere, but privacy is local. It is the tension between the legitimate uses of information and the need for appropriate privacy for individuals that motivate us all here to be here today. We must continually strive to keep our initiatives (relevant and oriented to the needs of the people, businesses and governments who we serve.

The presentations over the past two days also underscored the private sector’s commitment to sound privacy practices. According to the industry representatives here, good privacy policies make good business sense and that privacy considerations are now, more than ever, critical components of companies’ internal business processes.

Another common theme was is the wide variety of legal and regulatory environments that companies face when operating internationally. We learned more about possible mechanisms to deal with diverse legal requirements like binding corporate rules and of course, the safe harbor agreement.

The safe harbor works because of the commitment and dedication of many in this room to solve issues cooperatively and collaboratively. In the past year alone, nearly 300 companies have joined the Safe Harbor Program – which is indicative of the Program’s continuing success.

Over the past two days we have listened to presentations on a variety of issues central to the cross-border flow of information and privacy policies. The challenge will be to take the lessons learned at this conference and use these lessons to continue the development of tools that will facilitate the cross-border flow of information, while ensuring appropriate privacy practices.

Again, thank you for efforts to enhance our trans-Atlantic relationship and for strengthening the bonds that make the European–American economic partnership the strongest in the world.