With European leaders continuing to take pot-shots at the long-standing agreement allowing for the legal transfer of personal data from the European Union (EU) to the United States, the Marketing Research Association (MRA) has reiterated the need to maintain that agreement. We have also called upon a U.S. Senate Subcommittee to seriously "consider the issues of data privacy and cross-border data trade" and the importance of the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor for data transfer, as part of a hearing today on "Digital Trade."

The Safe Harbor program is essential to the conduct of survey, opinion and marketing research across the Atlantic, because, "Intentionally or not, the EU wields the Data Directive and its “adequacy” standard as an anti-competitive trade measure, discriminating against U.S. companies in digital trade because they do not deem the U.S. to have “adequate” data privacy protections."

MRA is encouraged by a recent report from the European Commission on the Safe Harbor on "actions to be taken in order to restore trust in data flows" following "deep concerns" about U.S. spying revelations, since it seems to indicate the continuing usefulness of the agreement in protecting consumer privacy, even as it makes recommendations to potentially alter that agreement. However, we share the concerns of U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce Larry Strickling, expressed at a conference on December 3, that we shouldn't "allow the concerns to lead to cutting off data flows between the U.S. and the EU.  Transborder trade – and especially transatlantic trade – now relies on the continued open flow of data, and cutting off these flows would cause significant and immediate economic damage on both sides of the Atlantic."

In a December 10 letter to the Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs, and Global Competitiveness, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), and the Ranking Member, Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), MRA expressed hope that they would "address the importance of maintaining the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor as a linchpin of digital trade, as well as the potential for harmonizing EU data privacy law with a more entrepreneurial approach."

The Subcomittee hearing on Digital Trade will be held today at 2:30pm. has since been postponed, but MRA will continue to make our case in defense of the Safe Harbor and advocate for greater trans-Atlantic harmonization of data privacy regulation, in betterment of the research profession.

Meanwhile, MRA urges all researchers who self-certify to the Safe Harbor to continue to adhere to those principles (Notice, Choice, Onward Transfer (to Third Parties), Access, Security, Data Integrity and Enforcement) in their privacy policies and their privacy practices with respondents.

UPDATE: The Senate Subcommittee hearing has been postponed.

UPDATE: Members of the Congressional High Tech Caucus sent a letter on December 13 to the U.S. Trade Representative echoing some of MRA's concerns about digital trade, saying, "For global trade to succeed and grow, access to data outside of the country is essential to the farmer, miner, shipper or travel agent, and halting cross-border data flows will, by many measures, simply stifle cross-border trade."