Microsoft to sign safe harbor agreement

Microsoft on Tuesday said it would join Hewlett-Packard and other companies in signing the U.S.-Europe "safe harbor" agreement on data privacy.

Microsoft is the largest company to sign on to date and could add needed credibility to the self-regulatory measure, which provides a framework to legally and ethically move data between the two marketplaces and promises U.S. companies legal protection from Europe's stringent privacy laws.

"Because our company privacy policies are consistent with the EU principles for data protection, Microsoft is able to sign the safe harbor agreement with the U.S. Department of Commerce this summer," Richard Purcell, Microsoft's director of corporate privacy, said in a statement.

Adoption of the agreement has been slow, with many companies taking a wait-and-see approach. But Jean Philippe Courois, president of Microsoft Europe, Middle East and Africa, said his company's decision to adopt the agreement was a "natural step" and reinforces its commitment to "protect our European customers' data and to making sure they feel safe whenever they do business with us."

In February, HP became the 21st company to sign the voluntary pact, which was negotiated by the U.S. Commerce Department under the Clinton administration after the European Commission issued a directive on data protection for its citizens. The safe harbor provisions went into effect last fall, and Commerce Department officials have been trying to boost their acceptance in order to bolster the legitimacy of the agreement.

Companies that don't sign on to the agreement may be subject to enforcement actions in Europe, although they also could avoid running afoul of the privacy laws by signed a "model contract" that promises adherence to the regulations. European officials have said they plan to review U.S. corporate compliance with the safe harbor deal this summer.

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