Europe and US to bang heads over data privacy

By Andrew Charlesworth
26 Oct 2010 View Comments
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European Parliament
Privacy versus security, round 27

The EU and US administrations are set to renegotiate rules governing the privacy of personal data transferred between the two blocs in a bid to unify the numerous bilateral sector-specific agreements currently in place.

A negotiating stance proposed by the European Commission was debated by the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs yesterday.

"Today we face a patchwork [of cross-Atlantic data exchange deals] all of which have proven their worth, but the overall result is not very satisfactory, " said Françoise Le Bail, European Commission director-general for justice, arguing for the Commission’s proposal.

The agreement envisaged by the Commission "will guarantee a certain number of basic rights for those whose data is gathered," explained Le Bail. This would enable citizens of either continent to take legal action in Europe or the US against abuses.

US Ambassador to the EU William E Kennard has warned that any agreement should not trade security for privacy. "We want both," he said, pointing out that the EU and US had common core values but different approaches to the issues of data privacy.

The proposal by the Commission follows the ratification of the Swift agreement on trans-Atlantic disclosure of financial transactions in July, arguably the most recent piece of the patchwork and roundly criticised by the data privacy lobby.

Indeed, the US stance during the opening shots of the Swift negotiations nearly a year ago ruffled feathers in Strasbourg. MEPs complained that the US negotiators didn’t seem to know that the European Parliament even existed.

“[The Americans] will have to be as flexible as possible, because we shall not be easy partners," warned Simon Busuttil, an MEP from Malta during yesterday’s debate.

"We have common values, but the US rides roughshod over some of them," said Douwe Korff, professor of international law at the London Metropolitan University.

The aim of the EU's Belgian Presidency is to finalise the negotiating brief in December.

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