c.2013 New York Times News Service
c.2013 New York Times News Service
LONDON — The European Commission demanded Wednesday that U.S. authorities take greater care in protecting European citizens’ personal data.
The move is the latest in a running debate between European and U.S. officials surrounding online data protection, a discussion that has become increasingly tense after a series of revelations by Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, about U.S. electronic surveillance in Europe.
While European officials Wednesday called for greater scrutiny of the use of online data, they stopped short of threatening to overturn the so-called Safe Harbor agreement between Europe and the United States.
That agreement, which has been in place since 2000, enables U.S. technology companies like Google and Microsoft to compile data generated by their European clients in their web searches and other online activities. The companies can use the data for business and marketing purposes in the United States, even though Europe’s rules governing online data privacy tend to be more stringent than U.S. ones. Under the Safe Harbor agreement, the more than 3,000 companies that are part of the data-sharing pact are expected to treat the information with the same privacy protections as if it had remained within the European Union.
European politicians, however, have raised concerns that the current arrangement enables the U.S. government to access data without the express permission of European citizens. And they note that U.S. companies have acknowledged providing information gathered in Europe to U.S. law enforcement agencies.
“Massive spying on our citizens, companies and leaders is unacceptable,” Viviane Reding, the European justice commissioner, said in a statement Wednesday. “There is now a window of opportunity to rebuild trust which we expect our American partners to use.”
Representatives of Google and Microsoft in Europe were not immediately available for comment.
The announcement follows a five-month review of the Safe Harbor agreement, a review that gained increased traction with European politicians following a series of revelations surrounding the U.S. government’s access to European citizens’ data.
Those include allegations that senior European politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, had their phones tapped by the NSA.
In the wake of these accusations, the European Commission — the executive arm of the European Union — and several member states, particularly Germany and France, have been calling for an extensive review of how personal data is shared between different jurisdictions.
Policymakers at the commission and the European Parliament are completing a draft regulation that could fine companies up to 100 million euros, roughly $136 million, or 5 percent of a company’s global annual revenue, whichever is higher, if they fail to protect consumers’ personal data.
Last month, several members of the European Parliament, which is considering a broad overhaul of European digital privacy rules, proposed measures that would require big U.S. online companies to gain approval from European officials before complying with U.S. warrants seeking citizens’ data.
“Today’s announcement is a ploy to drive the pace of the new data regulation,” said Marc Dautlich, a partner at the law firm Pinsent Masons in London. “The commission has laid down the gauntlet.”