US preparing for talks on data protection
The United States government is to adopt “very soon” a mandate for negotiations on a data-protection agreement with the European Union, according to US officials. Negotiations are expected to begin by April, when the two sides meet at ministerial level to discuss justice and home affairs matters.
The EU issued its mandate in December, but the US side has spoken of the need for “further clarification” from the EU on the scope of the agreement, which is intended to govern the data-sharing dimensions of all future agreements between the EU and the US in the field of justice and security. The requested clarification particularly relates to whether the framework will apply to agreements on matters in which the European Commission and the member states share competence.
When Viviane Reding, the European commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, said in December that there was “an apparent lack of interest on the US side to talk seriously about data protection”, the charge was rejected by William Kennard, the US ambassador to the EU.
In December, Reding designated Françoise Le Bail, the director-general of the Commission’s department for justice, as chief negotiator.
Concerns in Parliament
The agreement will require the backing of the European Parliament, but some MEPs are already unhappy with the implementation of an EU-US agreement on terrorist finance tracking that came into force last August. They have threatened to hold up future data-sharing agreements, such as an agreement on passenger name records currently being negotiated, unless the US is more forthcoming with information.
A US official rejected the charge that the US administration was being secretive, citing a joint evaluation of the terrorist finance programme as “favourable”. The Commission is currently preparing a report on the evaluation that is to be shared with the member states and the European Parliament.
On the US side, the data-protection agreement is to be an ‘executive act’ of the president, which does not require congressional approval.
Despite the engagement of senior officials from the two sides in a working group on data protection, and the emergence of a set of agreed principles in 2009, there are persistent problems over questions of redress and of data retention. “We have a long way to go,” the US official said.
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