wants stricter controls over U.S. snooping powers in
data pact talks
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[January 19, 2016]
By Julia Fioretti
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union
wants guarantees of effective limits on U.S. authorities' power to
request people's personal information from companies to conclude a new
EU-U.S. data transfer pact, a top EU official said on Monday, as a
deadline from EU privacy regulators looms.
Securing sufficient assurances U.S. spies will not access Europeans'
personal data indiscriminately once it is transferred across the
Atlantic has been a big sticking point in two years of talks between
Brussels and Washington on a new framework for protecting data
shifted to the United States.
"We need guarantees that there is effective judicial control of
public authorities' access to data for national security, law
enforcement and public interest purposes," EU Justice Commissioner
Vera Jourova said at a conference in Brussels.
The talks took on added urgency in October when the EU's top court
struck down the 15-year-old Safe Harbour framework, used by more
than 4,000 firms to transfer Europeans' data across the Atlantic
easily, because the material was vulnerable to being accessed by
U.S. authorities on national security grounds.
Adding to the pressure, EU data protection authorities gave the two
sides until the end of January to come up with a new framework for
protecting data transferred to the United States, failing which they
could start taking enforcement action against companies.
Jourova said talks would continue on the margins of the World
Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Andrus Ansip, the EU
Commissioner responsible for digital affairs, is due to meet U.S.
Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker on Thursday.
The Commission is also seeking more transparency on limits to U.S.
security services collecting personal data, Jourova said.
U.S. negotiators have so far resisted a mandatory system for
companies to report numbers of U.S. government access requests,
people familiar with the talks have said.
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However, one alternative would be for the United States to keep the
EU informed on how often U.S. authorities access personal data on
national security grounds as part of an annual review process of the
new framework, two of the people said.
Under EU data protection law, companies cannot transfer EU citizens'
personal data to countries outside the 28-nation bloc deemed to have
insufficient privacy safeguards, of which the United States is one.
Revelations two years ago from former U.S. National Security Agency
contractor Edward Snowden of mass U.S. surveillance programs caused
a political storm in Europe, leading the executive European
Commission to demand changes to Safe Harbour.
Businesses have warned of enormous consequences for both users and
companies should the talks collapse.
"This is an issue that is too important to fail," said Brad Smith,
Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich and David Evans)
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