Authorities gave in to American pressure despite objection from data protection agencies
A hidden-and seemingly discrete-Article 42 of the data protection rules triggered all alarms among EU partners. Also, to a lesser extent, in some offices of the European Commission.
Article 42 referred to the exchange of data with third countries and expressly forbade any entity from disclosing information to the authorities of other states (including judicial ones) unless authorized by the data protection agencies in each country. But last minute tweaks made the article disappear from the final version.
The five paragraphs that made part of the article, established that these data protection agencies inform the subjects of the requested details and information (companies or citizens) and national authorities where they resided. The United States strongly opposed to such regulation invoking the security risks.
Viewed in perspective, it is striking the example that the Commerce Department’s letter illustrates these dangers: “Does it seem right that a data protection agency must decide what tests are needed by the FTC [U.S. trade authority] to investigate a computer espionage program and the importance of this case to protect the interests of American consumers? “.
Also the Directorate General for Taxation clearly saw the scope of the standard: “We have to consider the political implications,” he said in the internal consultation document.
The most immediate consequence was that, in January 2012, when the vice president of the European Commission responsible for Justice, Viviane Reding, published her proposal, there was no trace of Article 42. The controversy surrounding the elimination of Article 42 has caused the opposite effect. Parliament, now responsible together with the Member States to amend the text, has decided to reestablish it.
“The article did not disappear as a result of pressure, but due to the resistance showed by some departments, including the Competition and Taxation”, confirmed sources of the European institutions.
Taking a step in that direction would be “the opposite of the way we have gone in recent years” in the fight against cartels or tax fraud. Sources deny that Article 42 would have prevented U.S. intelligence from spying on EU citizens and institutions, a revelation that has hit hard this legislative process.
The U.S. government is especially interested to see how it develops the policy, the part of this legislation that fully affects the processing of data in the public sector.
“The U.S. is putting pressure on member countries,” said Dimitris Droutsas, responsible for the project in the European Parliament. The dossier advances much slower than anticipated in the European Council, with great reluctance by Germany, the UK and some Scandinavian countries.
“Europe is always very timid in its response to U.S. actions. We accept many things that would be unacceptable if they came from any other country,”says one of the most critical MEPs, the Dutch Liberal Sophie in’t Veld.
In public it seems that the European Union and the United States are fighting a bloodless battle for control of privacy. Aware that the handling of personal data is a major source of wealth and power these days, authorities and businesses have taken almost two years pressing against European regulations on data protection.
The process, the most influential lobbying campaign ever recorded in Brussels, has taken a new dimension after learning that, besides trying to persuade, the U.S. has spied on its European partners. An affront to which Europe has responded timidly. The current process to safeguard privacy in Europe, depends on the approval of a dossier that although considered a priority, runs the risk of not seeing the light in the European legislature.
The U.S. decided to bet heavily at the first signs of the new European regulations on data protection if they could harm its interests. In late 2011, shortly after the Justice Department forwarded a draft to other departments of the European Commission, the text arrived mysteriously at the hands of the U.S. government. In just a few days, it flooded the offices of the Commission with a detailed response to the attempt to protect the privacy of European citizens.
As of now, it seems that the interests of the United States, and more specifically, those of the corporations that control the country, will become more prevalent in the fight between privacy and espionage; the ladder being the one that the United States government intends to keep alive at all cost.