By Dustin Volz
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Commerce Department said on Friday it would begin deploying digital trade experts in overseas markets as part of a pilot program intended to help U.S. businesses navigate foreign Internet regulations when selling digital products or transferring data abroad.
The digital attachés will rely on "on-the-ground expertise" to provide export assistance to firms trying to understand and comply with another country’s Internet policies, such as data localization requirements, U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker told Reuters in an interview.
"This is a new area that needs more specialized attention," Pritzker said.
The pilot program is launching in six to eight markets, including Brazil, China, Japan, India, the European Union and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, a Commerce Department spokeswoman said. Each market will have one attaché.
The United States exported about $400 billion in digitally deliverable services in 2014, according to the Commerce Department.
The attachés are modeled after the department’s foreign commercial service officers who already work to promote trade across other sectors of the economy, such as agriculture and pharmaceuticals, Pritzker said.
“We’ll have someone in that country, someone who will understand the specifics of how to sell your digital product,” she said.
The move comes as the United States and European Union are working to implement the so-called Privacy Shield legal framework that will allow companies to easily transfer personal data across the Atlantic. The previous agreement, known as Safe Harbor, was struck down last year by the European Court of Justice following revelations about U.S. surveillance programs.
Pritzker said she did not believe the U.S. Justice Department’s pursuit of a court order to force Apple Inc <AAPL.O> to unlock an iPhone linked to one of the San Bernardino killers would in any way jeopardize the final implementation of the Privacy Shield.
Pritzker announced the attaché pilot program during a talk on Friday at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she discussed the Privacy Shield and other issues facing the transatlantic digital economy with Andrus Ansip, vice president of the European Commission's digital single market.
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)