MARKETPLACE (6:30 PM ET)- Minnesota Public Radio
DAVID BROWN, anchor: President Bush is on the verge of signing a bill that pre-empts some tough state privacy laws in favor of what critics say are far looser federal standards. That means, for example, Texas might not be able to block access to their credit reports, Californias wouldn’t be able to say no to banks trading on their private information. Commentator and consumer activist Jamie Court is one of those critics. He’s got an unorthodox solution to the privacy squeeze. He says we should ask the French for help.
JAMIE COURT: I’m serious. The French could just be the ones to save us. After all, France has stood up to the US on principle before. Let me explain. Back in 1994 some of American’s greediest industries convinced Congress that the World Trade Organization should have the power to judge whether US laws set up unfair trade barriers–or, for that matter, any other country’s laws. Why? They figured they could complain whenever our own environmental or other standards prevent them from making more money.
But it works both ways. At the WTO, Europeans can try to invalidate our laws, and I think this is the time to do just that. After all, doesn’t gunning states’ privacy laws amount to a free trade barrier? See, Europeans treat individuals’ privacy as an inalienable right, and keep it under tight wraps. In countries like France, companies have long complained about turning over their
customer data to ugly American corporations that buy and sell that information like stocks and bonds.
That American practise has complicated more than one proposed international financial services deal. For instance, a European bank might want to outsource insurance policy sales to a US companies, but they have long feared that American companies will make a quick buck by reselling consumer information.
So France, here is your chance. If you want to protect everyone’s right to keep private their bank account balance, credit card debt, and choice of baguette, go to Geneva. Challenge the coming US law that says American states can’t set their own levels of privacy protection. It would be ironic if only the French could save American’s privacy. But after all, the French do have that je ne sais quoi, they’re uniquely able to understand that, like their wine and cheese, privacy needs careful cultivation. In Los Angeles, this is Jamie Court for MARKETPLACE.
BROWN: Commentator Jamie Court runs consumerwatchdog.org and is author of “Corporateering.” His opinions are his own, but we’re interested in your thoughtful response, [email protected]