Microsoft and the US government have thrown their weight behind the idea of a one-size-fits-all approach to data protection that would sweep away the data policies of individual countries.
"We have a patchwork of laws around the world that is increasingly creating a very confusing quagmire for information providers," MS general counsel Brad Smith told the Global Services Summit, according to Reuters.
He cited the example of countries' different rules on deleting emails. "If that's the case, it's very difficult to locate a data center in one country and provide that service to consumers in another country." And of course, it makes it more complex to run a service like, say, Hotmail.
"The trade rules will need to change in order for these benefits to continue to flow around the planet," Smith said. And we thought Microsoft would use technology to solve the problem.
Peter Cowhey, a senior counsel in the US Trade Representative's office, said that the Obama administration was looking at the trade rules covering IT services.
He suggested that the WTO and bilateral forums would be one way of dealing with "barriers at the border".
Meanwhile, former US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky suggested an internet trade agreement could oversee the delivery of cross-border software services.
When the US starts talking about using forums like the WTO to settle trade disputes and extend benefits around the world, it usually means that it wants other countries to fall into line with its practices and benefit its native companies. Just like it wants Europe to swallow GMO corn, whether it wants to or not.
It's fair to say the the US has a more "relaxed" approach to personal data than Europe in general. While many Americans get aerated about the idea of the government spying on them, they are often oblivious to the way corporations slice and dice and trade their data. At least until it leaks into the wild.
This, plus the fact that Smith et al appear to be referring to personal data - such as emails - in the same way as tradeable commodities such as pork bellies, ladies' underwear and car parts, will no doubt worry many Europeans, and not a few Americans too. ®
One reader makes the point that a global data policy could be a good thing - if it also swept away the intrusive practices of, say, China. Or even the UK, with its Interception Modernisation Project.
At the same time, it's not clear whether this was where Smith et al were coming from. Certainly, US IT firms have found themselves able to make their accommodations with Beijing and the like in the past.