EU Hands U.S. Data Protection To-Do List

In the wake of the NSA spying scandal, the European Union wants the U.S. to implement a set of data protection measures to help repair the diplomatic damage.

by Alexandra Mayer-Hohdahl, McClatchy News Service / November 27, 2013
Connecticut Sen. Christopher Murphy, left, briefs the media prior to a meeting with Congressman Gregory Meeks, right, and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, center, at the foreign ministry in Berlin. Associated Press/Markus Schreiber

The European Union set out Wednesday a series of data protection measures that it would like the United States to implement, measures it says are needed to repair the diplomatic damage done by allegations of widespread US spying activities.

"Citizens on both sides of the Atlantic need to be reassured that their data is protected and companies need to know existing agreements are respected and enforced," EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said in a statement.

"Today we put forward a clear agenda for how the US can work with the EU to rebuild trust," EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom added. "Everyone from internet users to authorities on both sides of the Atlantic stand to gain from cooperation."

Europeans have been outraged by documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden, which suggested that US intelligence services tapped into servers of leading internet companies and carried out mass spying on European citizens and politicians.

Some in privacy-conscious Europe have called for an aggressive reaction, such as the suspension of negotiations with Washington on a landmark, growth-boosting free trade deal.

But the European Commission, the EU's executive, said Wednesday that "standards of data protection will not be part of the ongoing negotiations" on the agreement.

It, however, called for action on other fronts, for instance finding that the "functioning" of the existing EU-US Safe Harbor data-sharing agreement is "deficient in several respects" and calling for remedies to be identified by the middle of next year.

The Safe Harbor system has been in place for more than a decade to allow companies to transfer data about EU citizens to the US.

The commission also called for talks on a new agreement about data exchanges for police and judicial purposes to be completed "swiftly." The EU and the US have been negotiating the deal for more than two years.

Additionally, the commission is calling for data requests submitted directly to companies to happen only under exceptional circumstances, and for EU citizens to enjoy the same data protection safeguards as their US counterparts.

"There is now a window of opportunity to rebuild trust which we expect our American partners to use," Reding noted.

(c) 2013 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany)