European Union Seeks Law To Gather Data Held Outside EU Bloc

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Privacy showdown ahead as European Union mulls forcing tech firms to hand over data, no matter where it is stored

The European Union is seeking to extend its ability to obtain customer’s personal data, even if it is outside Europe’s digital borders.

It is already known that the EU executive wants law enforcement authorities to be able to access electronic evidence stored within the 28-nation bloc. But Reuters has now reported that the scope of the planned legislation will extend to data held elsewhere, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

This ability to force tech firms to hand over customer data, even if it held outside of the EU’s jurisdiction, is sure to trigger a clash with privacy campaigners and technology giants.

privacy

Proposed Law

The proposed law is reportedly still in the drafting stage and is expected to go before lawmakers and member states at the end of March.

Essentially, it would apply to the personal data of people of all nationalities, not just EU citizens, as long as they were linked to a European investigation, one of the sources told Reuters.

And any tech firm, which does business in the European Union, would be subject to the proposed law.

Until now the the European Commission has tended to side with privacy campaigners, but it seems that the current slow method of accessing cross-border evidence is the main reason for the change in stance.

European Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova told Reuters that the current method for accessing cross-border evidence was “very slow and non-efficient” and that law enforcement had to be quicker than criminals.”

Digital Borders

The timing of this proposed European law is ironic considering that the United States is currently locked in a similar legal case against Microsoft.

The battle began in 2013 when the US government tried to force Microsoft to hand over emails that were stored on its servers located in Ireland. The US government said as Microsoft was a US company, it could request the data.

But Microsoft refused and its pushback gained widespread support from both media organisations as well as its fellow tech rivals such as Apple, Amazon, Salesforce and eBay.

Microsoft also launched a transparency website in 2015 called the Microsoft Transparency Hub to detail government data requests, which added to the strain in Redmond’s relationship with the US federal government.

Microsoft seemed to have won the day in July 2016 when an appeal court ruled that the United States government could not force Microsoft to hand over emails and communications stored in servers outside of the US.

But the Trump administration has filed its own appeal against that ruling and called for the Supreme Court to decide the issue.

The Supreme Court is now considering the case and is expected to issue a ruling by the end of June.

Microsoft for its part has also refused to hand over customer data concerning a Skype user to a court in Belgium.

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