Wed, Dec 22, 2010 - Page 7 News List

EU justice chief confronts US on data deal

BRUSSELS TUSSLES:The EU Justice Commissioner said the US spent too much energy on accessing European citizens’ information, and not enough on their right to privacy

The Guardian, BRUSSELS

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has confronted Washington over data protection rights in the fight against terror, accusing the US of being interested only in accessing European citizens’ bank records and flight schedules, but not in protecting their rights while doing so.

On Monday Reding said that at a meeting in Washington this month to agree what principles should underpin data privacy rights when information on citizens is transferred across the Atlantic, she found her US counterparts, Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland -Security Secretary Janet Napolitano “unprepared” and “uninterested.”

“The meeting turned out to be somewhat disappointing on data protection. From the outset we have noted an apparent lack of interest on the US side to talk seriously about data protection,” Reding said.

She said that the US had been interested in negotiations on specific data-sharing deals to win access to European information, but that it was less dynamic on the data protection agreement: “They have not even appointed a negotiator.”

The two sides have managed to reach case-by-case agreements on the sharing of citizen data, but in each case there have been tussles; the European parliament has repeatedly demanded tougher protection for citizens.

Brussels wants a document outlining the fundamental principles that should provide the basis for future data-sharing deals — a charter of rights to govern transfers of citizen information.

This month the EU’s 27 justice ministers gave the go-ahead to the European commission to begin negotiations with Washington over a “personal data protection agreement” when cooperating to fight terrorism or crime. Brussels is demanding a high level of protection of personal data such as passenger records and financial information when data are transferred as part of transatlantic co-operation.

The EU wants citizens to get the right to rectify and delete data; it also demands “a more proportionate” use of data by public authorities, and “effective judicial review,” meaning the right to go to court to seek redress over data use. Reding is hoping to win agreement with her opposite numbers on limiting the time that data can be retained, and on a strict ban on transfer of data to other countries.

The commissioner is also insisting the US hires an independent data protection supervisor to -oversee the authorities’ use of citizen data, as exists in Europe.

One EU source claimed the Americans just wanted to get their hands on the data, but were “not at all interested in [an] over-arching framework agreement that sets out what sort of principles govern this.”

US ambassador to the EU William Kennard yesterday expressed surprise at Reding’s comments. He said an agreement was more difficult than bilateral deals as there were “a lot of issues” and it was “fairly complex.”

Kennard added that the EU position had opened a Pandora’s box of issues “touching on so many, many, areas of law,” saying: “What laws are we talking about? We don’t even know.”

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