Privacy Advisor

NSA Leaks: EU-U.S. Tensions on the Rise, Europe Reacts

June 13, 2013

By Jedidiah Bracy, CIPP/US, CIPP/E 

Financial Times front page on 13 June 2013.

The past week has been filled with news about the U.S. National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance programmes. Initially published by The Guardian, whistleblower Edward Snowden discusses his reasons for leaking the classified programmes. The Privacy Advisor has been compiling the many angles and shockwaves that have been sent through the privacy and data protection community. 

For its lead story Thursday, Financial Times(FT) reports on Obama administration lobbying efforts in Brussels to remove measures in the EU’s proposed data protection regulation “that would have limited the ability of U.S. intelligence agencies to spy on EU citizens.” Three “senior EU officials” told FT that the unofficially named “anti-FISA clause” would have prevented U.S. requests for technology and telecommunications companies to turn over data on EU citizens. According to the report, the clause was abandoned by European Commission officials in 2012, even though EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding backed the safeguard.  (For readers having troubling accessing the FT story, GigaOm covered the revelations as well.)

According to Deutsche Welle, the European Parliament commissioned a report in 2012 that revealed the U.S. had, in theory, access to EU citizens’ data going back to 2008. The report concluded that the EU was failing in protecting its citizens from U.S. spy agencies. Reding, who is slated to meet with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in Dublin on Friday, said she would raise data protection concerns “with determination,” while adding, “Programmes such as PRISM, and the laws on the basis of which such programmes are authorised, potentially endanger the fundamental right to privacy and to data protection of EU citizens.”

And EU officials have demanded “swift and concrete answers” from the U.S. government about its spying programs, The Guardian reports. Reding has laid out seven questions she said need to be answered by the U.S.

According to Reuters, European lawmakers have been “rattled” by the recent surveillance disclosures and are threatening to dismantle data-sharing agreements with the U.S. Referring to existing data-sharing agreements—the SWIFT and airline passenger name record agreements—Austrian MEP Martin Ehrenhauser said, “It is time we grasped the nettle here and put our minds to ending the programme.”

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) issued an official statement in response to the disclosures last week. “There are real issues about the extent to which U.S. law enforcement agencies can access personal data of UK and other European citizens,” an ICO spokesman said. “Aspects of U.S. law under which companies can be compelled to provide information to U.S. agencies potentially conflict with European data protection law, including the UK’s own Data Protection Act.”

The ICO also said it “has raised this with its European counterparts, and the issue is being considered by the European Commission, who are in discussions with the U.S. government.”

After meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington, DC, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said the intelligence-sharing between the two nations is based on a “framework of law,” BBC News reports.

In a blog post, German Data Protection Commissioner Peter Schaar wrote that the NSA disclosures “illustrate the importance of strengthening the European data protection law.”

Out-Law.com notes that businesses should evaluate their data storage and outsourcing contracts in light of the recent NSA disclosures. “The news could have major implications for outsourcing,” the report states, “and will have been unsettling reading for many companies which use cloud services.”

And The Guardian has released a comprehensive, interactive "guide to your metadata."

Read more by Jedidiah Bracy:
AUSTRALIA—NSA Leaks Reach Australian Shores
Tech Firms, Lawmakers Respond to NSA Leak
NSA Leak Continues To Send Shockwaves Through Privacy World
Reactions to NSA Disclosures Continue