EU Criticises US ‘Lack Of Interest’ In Data Protection

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Viviane Reding has highlighted a clash between US and European attitudes to data privacy regulation

Viviane Reding, the outspoken European commissioner for justice and fundamental rights,  has accused the US authorities of demanding access to European citizens’ data without regard to their privacy rights.

Her comments spring from a meeting in Washington, USA, to thrash out a personal data protection agreement when the two jurisdictions co-operate to fight terrorism or crime. Reding complained that the American negotiating team were unprepared and uninterested.

Row Brewing Over Citizens’ Rights

Following an initial meeting earlier this year, she met Eric Holder, US Attorney General, and Janet Napolitano, the secretary for homeland security, on December 9. Reding said that the EU had “done its homework” over the year and a mandate was issued by the European Council of Ministers on December 3. It also appointed Francoise Le Bail, the director general of the Commission’s department for justice, as chief negotiator.

“In the meantime, the US side has basically been on hold. They have not even appointed a negotiator, they have not sought authorisation to negotiate, and merely accepted to have initially exploratory talks.” Reding said.

“From the outset we have noted an apparent lack of interest on the US side to talk seriously about data protection,” Reding added. “The US side did not seem ready to advance on data protection.”

Her comments have stirred William Kennard, the US ambassador to the European Union, to reject her accusations. He said the US administration needed to understand what EU negotiators wanted to include in the agreement before it could decide on who should be included in the talks.

“What laws are we talking about?” he asked. “We need to know. It would have been nice if we’d had these discussions  before the negotiation mandate [was] issued from the Council earlier this month.”

The charter of rights to govern transfers of citizen information sought by the EC would form the basis of regulations governing data-sharing issues, such as the sharing of air passenger name records and other initiatives currently under negotiation.

The EC wants citizens to have the right to rectify and delete data, and the framework to allow issues to go to court over data misuse. Reding also wants a limit on the time that data can be retained and a ban on transfer of this data to other countries.

One EU source, quoted in The Guardian, claimed the US 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”.

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