EU Leaders Seek Way to Protect Individuals' Data

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

c.2014 New York Times News Service

LONDON — Some European politicians want to keep Internet data closer to home.

On Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany will meet with President François Hollande of France to discuss plans to create telecommunications networks that keep individuals’ data inside European Union borders.

The proposals could limit how companies like Google and Facebook share data between their operations in Europe and the United States. They also form part of a growing debate here over how consumers’ online information should be used by technology companies and government agencies.

Many European policymakers, particularly in France and Germany, want to beef up data oversight in the wake of the revelations by the former National Security Agency analyst Edward J. Snowden about the surveillance activities of the United States and its allies in Europe.

Yet analysts say any effort to keep European data solely within continental borders could prove difficult to put into effect because of how the Internet’s infrastructure is designed. Internet traffic like emails routinely crosses national borders.

Much also will depend on new data and privacy rules that are currently being debated by European officials, and how large American tech companies respond to European fears that individuals’ data has been misused.

“It’s not possible to keep all European data inside the European Union,” said Mark Little, a technology analyst at the research firm Ovum in London. “It’s a very political idea.”

The meeting between the German and French leaders Wednesday comes after Merkel stated that European data should be secured within local borders to avoid being seen or collected by American companies and government agencies.

“We will, above all, discuss which European providers we have who offer security for our citizens,” Merkel said in her weekly podcast Saturday.

Viviane Reding, the EU’s justice commissioner, has spent more than two years shepherding new data regulations and privacy laws through the EU’s labyrinthine bureaucracy.

The proposals include giving Europeans the right to have their online information erased and providing individuals greater control over what data is collected and where it is kept. International companies with European customers would also have to comply with the strengthened controls or face fines totaling 2 to 5 percent of global revenues, or $138 million, whichever is greater.

The rules, which are expected to become law next year, would allow companies to operate throughout the Continent if they fulfill the requirements outlined by an individual country’s privacy regulator. Currently, companies must comply with regulators in each of the 28 countries of the EU.