This story was written by Keith Dawson for the Media Unspun email newsletter and is Copyright 2002 by Keith Dawson.
M E D I A   U N S P U N
EU: May I Investigate Your Passport, Please?
2002-05-28

You sign up for a .Net Passport account and your spam level jumps. Do you feel your privacy has been violated? That might depend on where you live. Europeans are touchier on the subject than Americans are, and the EU's members have encoded privacy protection standards in law. When news broke that the European Commission is investigating whether Passport violates these laws, the press took the opportunity to rehash all of Microsoft's troubles with Europe, as well as with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

Most of the coverage mentioned the two ongoing European Commission beefs against Microsoft, one for abusing its Windows monopoly to gain market share in the server space, and the other for bundling its Media Player with Windows. Extra credit to Reuters (carried by CNET and others) for noting that while these complaints could result in fines levied against Redmond, the EC's privacy probe is advisory only. Several outlets also mentioned the complaint against Passport filed with the FTC.

Quicken.com ran a Dow Jones story that stressed the fines that EU countries could levy, individually, if Microsoft is found in violation of privacy policies. The BBC interviewed Simon Davies of Privacy International, who called the EC probe "a tremendous opportunity to test the rigour of EU law and whether any technical standard for a global identity system can be established easily under European privacy laws."

For overall balance, read the Wall Street Journal's Brandon Mitchener. His article disentangled the roles of the various pieces of European bureaucracy that are involved, and nicely summarized EU privacy laws and their history. Mitchener gets a gold star for mentioning the Liberty Alliance, a wannabe competitor to Microsoft's Passport that is being developed by a group of companies including Sun and Visa. Mitchener reported that any EU investigation of Passport is likely eventually to look at Liberty.

The Register turned in a nice piece, in its usual jaundiced fashion, which conveniently linked to the complaint that started the investigation. We'll give the last word to Slashdot. A denizen of that venerable techie news-commentary site noted, "The guy asking these questions, Erik Meijer MEP, probably realized the game was up when the Parliament issued its preliminary answers in only one format ... Microsoft Word." - Keith Dawson

EU probes Microsoft over privacy law (Reuters)
http://news.com.com/2100-1001-922911.html

Microsoft May Face Fines in European Data-Privacy Probe (Dow Jones)
http://makeashorterlink.com/?N3AB432F

Microsoft under privacy investigation
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_2010000/2010839.stm

Microsoft's Passport System Draws European Attention
http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB1022435793477278480,00.html
(Paid subscription required)

Microsoft Faces European Commission Inquiry on Privacy Concerns (Bloomberg)
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/28/technology/28SOFT.html

EU scrutinizing Microsoft data gathering practices
http://www.eubusiness.com/cgi-bin/item.cgi?id=82043&d=101&h=240&f=56

Microsoft's .NET Passport service under investigation in Europe (AP)
http://www.nandotimes.com/business/story/415270p-3311147c.html

EU looks at MS Passport for privacy infringement
http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/4/25433.html

EU to Investigate Passport Privacy Concerns
http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=02/05/25/2152241