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22nd Feb 2020

EU commission 'stood firm' on US data privacy

  • US flag on display in European Parliament building in Brussels (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The European Commission says it "stood firm" in the face of pressure from the US when drafting its overhaul of the bloc's data protection regime.

Mina Andreeva, spokesperson for EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding, Thursday (13 June) said that the EU executive arm had faced down "intense US lobbying."

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She added that the commission proposal had included provisions "making it absolutely clear that US companies would have to abide by EU rules whenever they offer their goods and services to European citizens" while any requests by the US to access the data of an EU citizen would "be channeled through existing legal frameworks."

However, Sophie In't Veld, a Dutch Liberal MEP and data expert, said she was "surprised" by the commission's statement

"It was very clear that the article on data transfer had been taken out because the US mission had been involved in the drafting," she told this website.

"The US mission were very open about their lobbying efforts," she added.

A draft of the data protection regulation, sent by Reding to the other EU commissioners in November 2011, contained provisions in Article 42 that would make it a condition for the disclosure of user data to authorities in third countries to have a legal foundation, such as a mutual legal assistance agreement and an authorisation by the competent data protection authority.

However, the Article disappeared from the final proposal, after strong lobbying from the US administration.

The proposals, which were tabled in January 2012, are now in the hands of MEPs and ministers who expect to reach agreement on the rules before the end of 2013.

The commission has come under pressure this week to show that it will not allow Washington to abuse its 'special relationship' with Europe by ignoring its rules on data privacy.

Documents disclosed to the Guardian newspaper by 29-year-old Edward Snowden, a former CIA worker, revealed that the US National Security Authority (NSA) had been snooping on Europeans.

In a letter sent on Monday evening (10 June) to Eric Holder, the US attorney general, commissioner Reding demanded "explanations and clarifications" on whether the controversial PRISM surveillance programme, as well as any other US data collection and surveillance programmes, had also been targeted at Europeans.

The letter questioned whether the scope of US data collection was restricted to national security or foreign intelligence, how the data was collected, and whether businesses in the EU or US were able to challenge access to data.

"PRISM and the laws on the basis of which such programmes are authorised could have grave adverse consequences for the fundamental rights of EU citizens," Reding said.

Reding warned that she expected "swift and concrete answers" when the two sides speak on Friday (13 June) at a meeting of EU and US justice officials.

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