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25th Jan 2021

Malmstrom rejects accusations of working with US to weaken data laws

  • Malmstrom denied allegations she tried to weaken Reding's data protection reforms (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

EU commissioner for home affairs Cecilia Malmstrom on Monday (29 September) rejected allegations she colluded with the Americans to water down EU data protection rules.

The allegation surfaced over the weekend in a blog post by pro-privacy campaigners Access.

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The NGO’s Brussels-based office said an email from the US state department of commerce reveal Malmstrom’s cabinet had acted as informants to the US mission in Brussels in the run-up to an overhaul of EU wide data rules.

The timing of the disclosure is sensitive coming just ahead of a grilling from MEPs on her likely role as the next EU commissioner for trade.

The issue came up in the hearing. But Malmstrom denied the allegations.

“I have read those allegations. I totally reject them. I have always defended the European data protection proposals, internally and externally. These are based on misconceptions or on lies,” she told the MEPs.

Malmstrom’s spokesperson also dismissed the Access allegations.

The contact said the Swedish commissioner has never had “any such contact” with the US and that she fully supported Reding’s overhaul of the data protection rules.

“Commission Malmstrom strongly supported her proposal and did not oppose any of its parts,” said the contact.

But the email, obtained by Access via a freedom-of-information request, suggests behind-the-scenes manoeuvring by her team to postpone and make changes to the law enforcement section of the data rules originally tabled by the commission’s justice commissioner, Viviane Reding.

The email is internal correspondence between staff at the US state department and is dated 12 January 2012.

Reding published new legislation aimed at overhauling and strengthening data protection rights of European citizens and residents about a week later.

The heavily lobbied package includes a regulation on data protection reform and a separate directive on data rights, which deals with law enforcement.

The 12 January email says “a member of Malstromm’s (sic) (dg home) cabinet reached out” to the US mission.

Contents of the email suggest the staff member was keeping the US mission posted on the proposal’s developments.

This includes telling the Americans of apparent discrepancies on the data protection package between Reding’s justice and Malmstrom’s home affairs ministries.

The mail notes, for instance, that Malmstrom’s services are “concerned that Barroso’s chief of staff is friendly with Reding’s staff” and that the proposed rules would conflict with existing trans-Atlantic law enforcement agreements.

It also references a paper that Access says is a document from the Obama administration produced to influence the outcome of the legislative package.

Similar stories surfaced when the Financial Times reported a so-called anti-Fisa clause had been dropped from Reding’s package in early 2012 following intense pressure from the Americans.

The clause refers to the US law which covers foreign espionage, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa).

MEPs re-introduced the clause after a former contractor for the US National Security Agency leaked documents implicating the Americans in indiscriminate and mass surveillance of EU citizens.

Malmstrom's office says she had no input into the dropped anti-Fisa clause.

But the commissioner has come under fire from MEPs on previous occasions for not taking a tougher stand against the US spying programmes.

The US intelligence agency is accused of illegally accessing people’s financial details from the Belgian-based Swift company.

The revelation prompted an inquiry led by Malmstrom into the EU-US terrorist financial tracking programme (TFTP) agreement. The agreement allows US treasury department agents to access financial data via Swift to help them track terrorists.

Malmstrom later dropped the probe telling reporters the commission “won’t suspend any agreement with an international partner based on two newspaper articles.”

The European Parliament, for its part, passed a resolution to suspend the contract.

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