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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs