News / Europe

Planned EU Privacy Law no Magic Bullet Against US Spying

Members of the EU Parliament take part in a voting session on the implications for EU citizens' privacy of the US Prism and other internet surveillance cases, on July 4, 2013 during a session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France.
Members of the EU Parliament take part in a voting session on the implications for EU citizens' privacy of the US Prism and other internet surveillance cases, on July 4, 2013 during a session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France.
TEXT SIZE - +
Reuters
— Stung by revelations about the scale of U.S. electronic spying, Europe has been itching to show it can protect its citizens from snooping - but planned new privacy legislation risks a head-on collision with U.S. law.
 
However much European Parliament lawmakers may fume at the leaks from former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, Europe has a poor record in battles with U.S. justice and intelligence services over its citizens' data.
 
What is more, the Internet is dominated by the likes of Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Yahoo! - U.S. companies that will feel more bound by U.S. laws compelling them to give information to their intelligence services.
 
“It is certainly not up to Europe alone to determine what data can be accessed in the United States,” said privacy lawyer Eduardo Ustaran of Field Fisher Waterhouse in London.
 
For U.S. firms, any new laws drawn up in Brussels are unlikely to take precedence. Lawyers say potential U.S. punishments are more than enough to dissuade companies from complying with European rules.
 
“What would you prefer: to be slapped by U.S. law or the prospect of a European fine that may never be enforced?” said Mark Watts, an lawyer specializing in IT at Bristows in London.
 
Documents leaked by Snowden have shown that the U.S. National Security Agency monitors vast quantities of email and telephone data of both Americans and foreigners. Attempting to limit the damage, President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that U.S. intelligence-gathering was focused on specific concerns like counter-terrorism, cyber-security and weapons of mass destruction.
 
But U.S. allies are concerned, and the European Parliament, where more than 750 members represent 500 million citizens across 28 countries, plans to back a tough new privacy law by the end of the year.
 
Jusr one catch
 
The law would oblige companies to tell European regulators when an intelligence service was requesting data on a European citizen, and to get the regulators' approval.
 
U.S. companies and lawyers say there is one glaring catch:  in most cases they are not allowed to tell anyone, even a European regulator, about a data request.
 
Demands for information often come from courts set up in 1978 under the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Services Act (FISA), with a gagging order attached. Breaching such an order of a FISA court can spell hefty fines and even jail.
 
Google and Microsoft have so far failed to lift the gag, underlining the difficulties U.S. companies face in complying with rules in Europe.
 
“Prior authorization for transfer of EU citizen data is in direct conflict with U.S. law, namely the FISA act,” said an industry source on condition of anonymity.
 
Recent history provides little encouragement for the Europeans.
 
In 2011, attempts to bring in EU legislation allowing EU regulators a peek at U.S. intelligence requests before they were processed failed after U.S. officials complained it would hamper counter-terrorism investigations. The EU has also tried, with limited success, to limit U.S. access to European travel and financial data.
 
European hardball?

 
This time is different, says Jan Philip Albrecht, a German Green member of the European parliament (MEP) who will negotiate the shape of the draft law with EU countries.
 
“The problem is that we allowed the U.S. to have this supremacy. And I don't think we have to,” he said.
 
Many European Parliament lawmakers are resolute that U.S. companies must follow European laws if they want to reap profits in Europe, says Manfred Weber, a German conservative MEP.
 
He said companies could be forced to store Europeans' data on a 'European cloud', rather than on U.S. servers, to help keep it out of reach of U.S. authorities.
 
Caspar Bowden, Microsoft's former privacy chief, said Europe has a menu of choices to play tough. It could, for example, revoke existing agreements on data security such as the EU-U.S. Safe Harbor framework, which obliges firms to inform customers about data transfers.
 
Industry sources who do not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue say they wish the European Union and the United States would resolve their privacy differences and “leave companies out of it”.
 
They advocate an international convention setting the rules of the spying game. Germany, for example, is seeking to negotiate a 'no-spy deal' with Washington, while also pushing for a stronger European IT industry less reliant on U.S. firms.
 
Tech entrepreneurs warn scaremongering over spying will make Europeans more nervous about adopting cloud computing, which offers much cheaper data storage, but sometimes with back-ups in different continents.
 
Jumping on the privacy bandwagon may win votes in the European Parliament election, due next May. But the parliament may struggle to win approval for its ideas from EU governments, whose police and intelligence agencies also benefit from access to the data that the U.S. firms hold.
 
Faced with such legal and political complexities, Europeans may have to just reconcile themselves to a degree of access to their data, a European diplomat said.
 
“As long as we don't have our version of Google and Apple, we may as well turn off our Internet or learn to live with this.”

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid