Friday

23rd Jul 2021

US spy scandal prompts redraft of EU data bill

  • US leader Barack Obama told press in Berlin on Wednesday that Prism has saved lives in Europe (Photo: bundeskanzlerin.de)

EU institutions aim to revive an anti-snooping clause in their data protection bill, even though it would do nothing to stop a US-type operation.

The so called article 42 in the new regulation would create a legal framework on transfer of data to third countries, including the United States.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The European Commission relegated it to a footnote in its original draft of the document.

But justice commissioner Viviane Reding told the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday (19 June) that she does not object to a proposal, put forward by some MEPs, to give it full legal force.

"If the parliament thinks that out of the recital there should be made an article, so be it. I have no objections to this," she said.

Reding spoke following the revelations that US intelligence services conducted a massive-scale snooping operation, dubbed Prism, on EU citizens using the Clouds of US firms with branches in Europe.

Article 42 is known in EU circles as the "anti-Fisa clause" because the US carried out Prism under its Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa).

But in reality, it would do nothing to stop a Prism-type operation even if gets back in.

A European Parliament source close to the file told EUobserver the clause will force the EU and US to negotiate in future on how to resolve a current jurisdictional clash.

He said US companies with subsidiaries in Europe are caught between two legal regimes.

The US demands that they maintain secrecy about its requests for personal data. But in the EU, they are required to notify the person in question that the US is requesting their information.

When asked by this website if inserting 42 into the text would stop Prism-type activity, he said: "Of course not, [but] it is a strategic decision to force the issue in the future."

Meanwhile, another weakness in the EU bill is that only a small portion of data on the Cloud is considered "personal data."

MEPs are debating the definition of personal data, with some aiming to exclude pseudonymous data altogether from the regulation.

The European Data Protection Supervisor and the EU parliament's lead negotiator on the file, German Green Jan Albrecht, want pseudonymous data included.

Such data does not explicitly name a person but uses other identifiers to single him or her out.

For her part, Reding also weighed in on the US surveillance issue on Wednesday.

“It is a wake-up call … [it is] urgent that we proceed with a solid legislation [on data protection]," she told MEPs.

She said it is necessary to act quickly.

“A delay [on the EU data bill] would play into the hands of those who would not strengthen data protection,” she noted.

But the vote this week suffered another setback in the EU legislative machine.

The EU parliament committee currently handling the dossier now says the vote will mostly likely take place in September or October.

It was originally scheduled for April.

Reding along with home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom on Wednesday also wrote to the US department of justice over the spy scandal.

The letter - seen by this website - is addressed to the secretary of the US department of homeland security, Janet Napolitano.

It asks Napolitano to provide written responses to questions on Prism and to set up a meeting in July to discuss EU and US data protection.

Reding already sent a letter to US attorney general Eric Holder on June 10.

Some, but not all of her questions, were answered at a ministerial meeting on 14 June in Dublin.

Frontex chief: 'about time' MEPs probe his agency

Some 14 MEPs have created a group to probe allegations of rights abuse by the EU's border agency Frontex. Its head, Fabrice Leggeri, welcomed its creation and said it "is about time".

Romania denies forcing migrant-boat back to Turkish waters

Romania's ministry of internal affairs wrote to Frontex claiming it did not engage in any illegal pushbacks of people on rubber boats into Turkish territorial waters. The country says it followed EU engagement rules and Greek orders.

News in Brief

  1. Macron changes phone after Pegasus spyware revelations
  2. Italy to impose 'vaccinated-only' entry on indoor entertainment
  3. EU 'will not renegotiate' Irish protocol
  4. Brussels migrants end hunger strike
  5. Elderly EU nationals in UK-status limbo after missed deadline
  6. WHO: 11bn doses needed to reach global vaccination target
  7. EU to share 200m Covid vaccine doses by end of 2021
  8. Spain ends outdoor mask-wearing despite surge

Feature

Covid-hit homeless find Xmas relief at Brussels food centre

The Kamiano food distribution centre in Brussels is expecting 20 people every half hour on Christmas Day. For many, Kamiano is also more than that - a support system for those made homeless or impoverished.

Top court finds Hungary and Poland broke EU rules

EU tribunal said Hungary's legislation made it "virtually impossible" to make an asylum application. Restricting access to international protection procedure is a violation of EU rules.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. Far left and right MEPs less critical of China and Russia
  2. Why is offshore wind the 'Cinderella' of EU climate policy?
  3. Open letter from 30 embassies ahead of Budapest Pride
  4. Orbán counters EU by calling referendum on anti-LGBTI law
  5. Why aren't EU's CSDP missions working?
  6. Romania most keen to join eurozone
  7. Slovenia risks court over EU anti-graft office
  8. Sweden's gang and gun violence sets politicians bickering

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us