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Europe, US Negotiate Data-Sharing Agreement Amid Controversy


Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (file photo)

Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (file photo)

The United States and European Union have begun formal negotiations on an agreement to protect personal information they exchange while fighting crime and terrorism. But the talks in Hungary also underscored that differences remain over how far the information exchange can go.

American officials attended the U.S. European Union Justice and Home Affairs ministerial meeting in Hungary to improve cooperation between Europe and America in areas such as fighting terrorism, organized crime and cyber crime.

Those efforts have been overshadowed by differences between the European Union and the United States over how much personal information they should share about their citizens.

Speaking after talks in the Royal Palace of Godollo, a town near Budapest, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano confirmed negotiations will continue.

"We believe that sharing of passenger-name record information is and can be very consistent in protecting of privacy rights. The challenge is to nit them together effectively. Those negotiations are underway. I think the next round is the week after next in Washington D.C.," she said.

There are already bilateral agreements between the European Union and the United States on sharing at least some information on banking and passengers to fight crime and terrorism.

But European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said the next round of negotiations should lead to an agreement on protecting fundamental rights of American and European citizens.

"You can not, on one hand, think only about security issues without thinking about the basic values of the citizens and the right of the citizens to the protection of their private data," Reding said.

She added it is important to come to an umbrella agreement that would harmonize data-protection standards and involve an independent body to oversee the information exchange.

The European Commission said it expects a Computer Emergency Response Team to be ready by the end of May to tackle cyber crime, with the European police organization, Europol, playing a major role in supporting member states.

Europe is facing a massive influx of refugees from Libya and other countries in turmoil, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the United States stands ready to help Europe.

"The United States has its own migration issues, particular vis-a-vis Mexico and Central America. But what we are talking about specifically in terms of best practices sharing is with respect to biographic data, biometric data, how one identifies who are are refugees, who are asylum seekers. How do you deal with accompanied minors?," she said.

The United States and Europe have also agreed to increase transatlantic cooperation in tackling organized crime, especially the trade in cocaine, explained U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

"The cocaine trade that exists in Central America, in Mexico, has tentacles that spread to parts of Africa and ultimately to Europe as well as the United States. And so what we want to do is share techniques, share information, share intelligence, and come up with common ways in which we can fight this growing problem," Holder said.

The gathering was held in Hungary, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union. It is also the 10th anniversary of the Council of Europe's Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, which has been signed by 47 nations.

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