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The DMA Safe Harbor Program Guide for European and Swiss Consumers

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What is the Safe Harbor Framework? 
How can the DMA Safe Harbor Program Help You?
How can Consumers Register Complaints?

Responding to the Privacy Needs of International Consumers

The DMA Safe Harbor Program is an assurance to European and Swiss consumers that US companies displaying the DMA Safe Harbor mark comply with the enforcement requirements of the safe harbor principles. The DMA Safe Harbor Program will assure international consumers that an independent body will be available to hear and appropriately address their data privacy concerns if resolution is not obtained through either the company’s customer service department or other in-house dispute resolution program. Companies that adhere to the safe harbor principles place great value on data privacy protection and will make every effort to respect consumer requests regarding use of the personal information being maintained about them.

What is the US-EU Safe Harbor Framework?

In October 1998, the European Union passed wide-sweeping privacy legislation – called the European Union Data Protection Directive. The Directive places new requirements for businesses that wish to collect, process or transfer personal data from an EU Member State. Under the Directive, the transfer of personal information from an EU Member State to a non-EU country is forbidden unless the country provides an “adequate” level of privacy protection. The EU does not currently view the United States as having an adequate level of protection.

In order to avoid potential disruptions in trade between the United States and the EU, the US Department of Commerce in consultation with the European Commission and the industry developed the safe harbor framework. This framework will allow US companies a means of assuring European consumers that they will provide an adequate level of privacy protection, thereby satisfying the “adequacy” requirement of the European Directive on Data Protection. Participation by companies in the safe harbor is completely voluntary.

What is the US-Swiss Safe Harbor Framework?


The US also negotiated a safe harbor framework with Switzerland. Its safe harbor principles and FAQs are based on the US-EU negotiated safe harbor framework. The US-Swiss safe harbor framework provides the Swiss people an assurance that participating companies will meet an adequate level of data privacy protection.

How Can The DMA Safe Harbor Program Help You?

The DMA Safe Harbor Program will:

  • Allow European and Swiss consumers, companies and governments to feel more comfortable in engaging in business with companies located in the United States;
  • Offer a means for resolving data privacy complaints; and
  • Help businesses to meet certain safe harbor requirements.

You can have confidence that companies displaying the DMA Safe Harbor mark have fulfilled their requirement under the safe harbor framework to subscribe to an independent third-party complaint resolution mechanism. Under the DMA Safe Harbor Program, European and Swiss data privacy complaints will be resolved in a timely and straightforward manner. The safe harbor principles require that privacy complaints be initially addressed by the company’s customer service department or other in-house complaint program.

Be Sure to Look for the DMA Safe Harbor Mark.

safe harbor logoAll organizations that comply with the DMA Safe Harbor Program will display this mark in their mail offers, in their print advertisements, and on their websites.

If a company displaying the DMA Safe Harbor mark does not satisfactorily address your data privacy complaint, you may contact us at safeharbor@the-dma.org or in writing to let us know the details of your complaint. Our address is:

Direct Marketing Association
Attn: Safe Harbor Line
1615 L Street NW, Suite 1100
Washington, D.C. 20036

The DMA will contact the company promptly to take appropriate action to address your data privacy complaint. The DMA is ready to provide appropriate sanctions against a company that fails to comply with the safe harbor principles. (For a complete description regarding the DMA’s process for handling complaints, please refer to the DMA Safe Harbor Program Complaint Procedure fact sheet on our web site at: http://thedma.org/services/dma-international-safe-harbor.)

What is Safe Harbor Line?

Even with the best of companies complaints can occur. Safe Harbor Line acts as an intermediary between European/Swiss consumers and companies located in the United States to resolve data privacy complaints in a timely manner.

Safe Harbor Line is a free consumer service sponsored by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). Established in 1917, the DMA has a history of providing assistance to its members in adhering to the best marketing practices. For more information you can also contact the DMA at safeharbor@the-dma.org.

Most Frequently Asked Questions by Consumers:

1. Will Safe Harbor Line Refer Complaints to Companies that are not Members of the DMA Safe Harbor Program?

No. Please refer to the company’s safe harbor privacy policy to see who is serving as the company’s independent third-party dispute resolution mechanism. You should contact them to have your data privacy complaint addressed.

2. How Do Consumers Register Complaints with Safe Harbor Line?

Consumers may register complaints with Safe Harbor Line by:

  • email: safeharbor@the-dma.org
  • mail:
    • Safe Harbor Line
    • Direct Marketing Association
    • 1615 L Street, NW – Suite 1100 Washington, DC 20036
  • fax: 202.955.0085

3. What Information is Needed to Register a Complaint?

In order for Safe Harbor Line to pursue a complaint, you must first have attempted resolution through the company’s customer service department or other in-house dispute resolution program. If the company has neither responded to you within 30 days nor addressed your complaint to your satisfaction then you may file a complaint with Safe Harbor Line.

Consumers requesting assistance through Safe Harbor Line should fill out and submit the form found here.

4. How Will My Complaint Be Processed?

The Safe Harbor Line staff makes every effort possible to reach a satisfactory resolution for the consumer.

In those cases where there is no resolution by the company, consumer complaints will be referred to the DMA’s Safe Harbor Program Committee for appropriate review and action.

Sanctions can include:

  • Correction of actions found not to be in compliance with the safe harbor principles;
  • Correction or deletion of inaccurate personal information;
  • Reimbursement of actual, direct monetary damages incurred by the consumer;
  • Suspension or expulsion from the DMA Safe Harbor Program;
  • Publicity for non-compliance;
  • Notification to the Department of Commerce regarding the Committee’s decision and a request to remove company from the Safe Harbor Certification List; and/or
  • Referral to the Federal Trade Commission or Department of Transportation for consideration of governmental enforcement action.

For a complete description regarding the DMA’s process for handling complaints, please refer to the DMA Safe Harbor Program Complaint Procedure fact sheet on our website at: http://thedma.org/services/dma-international-safe-harbor.

The DMA Safe Harbor Privacy Promise to European and Swiss Consumers

1. The DMA will not disclose your complaint or any information you disclose to it except to: (1) the company that you have filed a complaint against for purposes of its responding, and (2) the DMA Safe Harbor Program Committee for purposes of reviewing and ruling on case. In addition, if the decisions made by the Program Committee are in your favor, the case information may be publicized or forwarded to the appropriate governmental enforcement body at the Program Committee’s discretion. If case information is publicized, the DMA will ensure that any information that it provides about the consumer will be kept anonymous. Furthermore, the DMA will not disclose any such information to any other person except as required by law, or pursuant to court order, or with your consent

2. The DMA will disclose to you on your written request any of the personal information about you that is in its control and will provide you with the ability to correct it where it is inaccurate. The DMA will retain the information in strict confidence and under appropriate security and only its staff administering the program will have access to it. The DMA will retain the case information for a period of three years, or until all legal matters have been concluded.

3. Any personal information disclosed to us will be used only for the purpose of addressing your dispute. However, aggregate statistical program information may be periodically developed and made public. No disclosure of a consumer’s name will be made in any aggregate public statistical report.

4. If you have any questions or concerns about our handling of personal information, please contact a member of the DMA staff at:

Email: safeharbor@the-dma.org
Fax: 202.955.0085