How about Estonian law with your morning cuppa’

DailyTimes screengrab

It’s like the Hotel California, you can subscribe any time you like but you can never leave.

It’s not often you start the morning with an international legal dispute, and that before one’s morning coffee. This morning, from the kitchen, I was treated with the dulcet tones of my wife arguing with the London Times about cancellation of her online subscription. It turns out they only accept cancellations from the US via passenger pigeon on odd Tuesdays which have a full moon, and then only when written in the blood of a recently slain unicorn. Ok, not really, but as we haven’t actually figured out how one successfully cancels a subscription, that may in fact be the cancellation policy. Pro tip – don’t subscribe to the London Times.

Anyway, the interesting thing about that kerfuffle is the degree to which the average consumer worldwide is entering into contracts with companies in other countries, ostensibly under the laws of those countries. As consumers, however, those individuals remain protected under the consumer protection and other laws of their respective countries (or, in the case of the US, an odd patchwork of federal, state, and local laws). As a result, even as simple transaction as a newspaper subscription or Facebook registration can give rise to significant legal cases with an international impact.

Many of those cases involve privacy and the EU-US privacy shield. Europe isn’t alone in its concern for the privacy of citizens, however, with a new decision extending the protections of Canadian Privacy to data disseminated outside of Canada (hat tip to Daniel Solove). While the US doesn’t really care as much (or perhaps at all) about privacy, there are laws like the Speech Act which attempt to protect US residents (in this case writers) from the effects of foreign laws which are against US public policy (in this instance, the right to free speech).

There are a host of other issues which arise from these contracts, however. Do companies like the Daily Times understand and follow US legal requirements like the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act or, in the case of selling (and upselling), the Telephone Consumer Protection Act? Even if they do, how does one collect a relatively small debt in a foreign country in an efficient and cost-effective way? In the other direction, Europe has extended its controversial “right to forget” worldwide, creating a compliance nightmare for Google and other big US tech companies, and an unresolved conflict for others without as much skin in the game in Europe.

The Internet makes international business possible from your kitchen table. What that means for public policy and protection for the consumer remains largely unresolved.

EU votes to impose restrictions on US travel

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While the big news in US travel has been President Donald Trump’s travel ban, there are indications that travel to the US has become more difficult for travelers from all around the world, including valuable trading partners like Western Europe and Asia. While much of that has been anecdotal, reports of overzealous border controls and immigration raids would appear to be impacting travel to the US. The Economist reported that searches for flights to the US dropped 17% since Trump became president, with business travel dropping 3.4% in the week following the order. Based on our office’s experience, travel to the US, even for business travelers from Europe, has become a more unpredictable experience than before.

Now it looks like the EU is preparing to make American travelers to Europe share in the pain. According to a report in the Independent, the EU has passed a non-binding resolution recommending that US citizens no longer be permitted to travel within the EU visa-free. If implemented, US travelers could be forced to apply for visas for travel within Europe within a little over one years’ time. The EU has also been considering a registration requirement for US travelers to Europe which would presumably be similar to the US ESTA program. While both changes have been under consideration for some time, the timing certainly suggests that US policies have bolstered support for actions which might otherwise hurt the European travel industry.

Whatever the long term results of this resolution, business travelers from both sides of the Atlantic can reckon with more bureaucracy and less flexibility when planning travel, at least until tensions between the US and EU lessen. Travelers to the US, even from visa waiver countries, should consider applying for a visa before traveling, particularly if they’ve traveled to the Middle East or other areas with connections to terrorism.