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.
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

Jihadist Assassin says Goal of Tunisia Murders Was Chaos

Abu Muqatil at-Tunusi’s remarks in a propaganda interview also cast light on attack on Bardo Museum More

Russia Denies License to Tatar-Language TV Station in Crimea

OSCE official says denial shows 'politically selective censorship of free and independent voices in Crimea is continuing' More

Kenyan Startups Tackle Expensive Remittances Through Bitcoin

Some think services could give Western Union a run for its money, though others say it’s still got a long way to go 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.
For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leadersi
X
Aru Pande
April 01, 2015 9:09 PM
The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leaders

The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Buhari: Nigeria Has ‘Embraced Democracy’

Nigeria woke up to a new president-elect Wednesday, Muhammadu Buhari. But people say democracy is the real winner as the country embarks on its first peaceful handover of power since the end of military rule in 1999. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Abuja.
Video

Video Tiny Camera Sees Inside Blood Vessels

Ahead of any surgical procedure, doctors try to learn as much as possible about the state of the organs they plan to operate on. A new camera developed in the Netherlands can now make that easier - giving surgeons an incredibly detailed look inside blood vessels, all the way to the patient’s heart. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Latin American Groups Seek Fans at Texas Music Festival

Latin American music groups played all over Austin, Texas, during the recent South by Southwest festival, and some made fans out of locals as well as people from around the world who had come to hear music. Such exposure can boost such groups' image back home. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Stockton Community, Police, Work to Improve Relations

Relations are tense between minority communities and police departments around the United States following police shootings that have generated widely-publicized protests. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Stockton, California, where police and community groups are working toward solutions, with backing from Washington.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More