Edward Snowden

Snowden disclosures prompt EU to curb data transfers

Action being taken in response to disclosures by Edward Snowden of surveillance activity

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 October, 2013, 9:33pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 October, 2013, 4:17am

New European rules aimed at curbing questionable transfers of data from EU countries to the US are being finalised in Brussels.

They represent the first concrete reaction to Edward Snowden's disclosures of mass surveillance of digital communications.

Regulations on European data protection standards are expected to pass the European Parliament committee stage on Monday after the political groupings agreed on a compromise draft following two years of stalemate on the issue.

The draft would make it harder for the big United States internet servers and social media providers to transfer European data to third countries, subject them to EU law rather than secret US court orders, and authorise massive fines for not complying with the rules.

"As parliamentarians, as politicians, as governments we have lost control over our intelligence services. We have to get it back again," said Jan Philipp Albrecht, a German steering the data protection regulation through the parliament.

As governments we have lost control over our intelligence services. We have to get it back again
Jan Philipp Albrecht

Data privacy in the EU is under the authority of national governments. Standards vary enormously across the 28 countries, complicating efforts to arrive at satisfactory data transfer agreements with the US. The rules are easily sidestepped by giant companies, Brussels argues.

The new rules would ban the transfer of data unless based on EU law or under a new transatlantic pact with the Americans complying with EU law. "Without any concrete agreement there would be no data processing by telecommunications and internet companies allowed," a summary of the law said.

Such bans were foreseen in initial wording two years ago but were dropped after intense lobbying from Washington. The proposed ban has been revived as a result of the uproar over operations by the US National Security Agency (NSA).

Viviane Reding, the EU's commissioner for justice and the leading advocate in Brussels of a new system securing individuals' rights to privacy and data protection, argues that the new rulebook will rebalance the power relationship between the US and Europe on the issue, forcing the American authorities and technology firms to reform.

"The recent data scandals prove that sensitivity has been growing on the US side of how important data protection really is for Europeans," Reding told a German foreign policy journal.

"All those US companies that do dominate the tech market and the internet want to have access to our gold mine, the internal market with over 500 million potential customers.

"If they want to access it, they will have to apply our rules."