Friday, March 7, 2014
The Associated Press
(Continued from page 1)
President Obama greets the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, last year.
The Associated Press
Options available to the EU include suspending or ending the agreement, or demanding that the United States enact more powerful data protection laws that include substantial fines for companies that don’t keep data safe.
Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, said Wednesday that it also wants to see changes in Safe Harbor.
“We share the opinion that the Safe Harbor agreement needs significant improvements,” Interior Ministry spokesman Philipp Spauschus said.
U.S. Federal Trade Commission chief Edith Ramirez said Safe Harbor has nothing to do with the surveillance scandal, and urged Europeans not to damage what she called a commercial agreement that works well.
“It cannot be right ... to conflate the distinct issues raised by the use of personal data to advance private commercial interests and to protect national security,” she said Monday in Brussels.
But the EU’s Reding made clear that the status quo is not an option.
“The existing scheme has been criticized by European industry and questioned by European citizens: They say it is little more than a patch providing a veil of legitimacy for the U.S. firms using it,” she said Tuesday in Washington.
Her agency is reviewing Safe Harbor and will present its results by the end of the year. The EU Commission could suspend the agreement or seek amendments to it rather easily, without the usual lengthy procedures of having to seek approval from all EU member states or the European Parliament.
An even bigger battle looms over already contentious free-trade talks between the world’s two biggest economies. Trade volume between the United States and the European Union totaled 800 billion euros last year.
Reding warned this week that the lack of data privacy safeguards in the U.S. could “easily derail” the talks, which resume in December and are expected to be concluded within a year.
It appears certain that as part of the negotiations the EU will insist on tougher U.S. data protection in line with new European laws.
That legislation lets users instruct companies to fully erase their personal data – the so-called right to be forgotten – as well as limiting user profiling, requiring greater transparency from companies and mandating prior consent. Plus they contain stiff fines for violations.
“Otherwise, the European Parliament may decide to reject” the EU-U.S. free trade deal, Reding said.
The most significant action taken in Brussels so far has been a vote by the European Parliament urging Europe to stop sharing bank transfer data with U.S. law enforcement in terror investigations.
But that resolution would need approval from the European Commission – and from all 28 national governments, a long and uncertain process.