U.S. and European Union officials agreed to try to complete an agreement by mid-2014 to protect individuals’ private data while sharing information for law enforcement, weeks after Europeans were angered by allegations that the U.S. eavesdropped on some world leaders.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Rand Beers, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, met yesterday with European Union Justice Commissioner Vivane Reding, Lithuanian Justice Minister Juozas Bernatonis and other European officials at the Justice Department in Washington.
The meeting followed media reports that the U.S. National Security Agency listened in on the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
U.S. intelligence activities “led to regrettable tensions in the trans-Atlantic relationship, which we seek to lessen,” according to the joint statement issued by the U.S. and European officials after the meeting.
The officials said they are “committed to advancing rapidly in the negotiations” with a goal of reaching a data-protection agreement by mid-2014, according to the joint statement.
The EU and U.S. started talks in 2011 on such an agreement for cooperation to combat terrorism and crime. More than 15 negotiating rounds have failed to yield a deal, Reding said in advance of the meeting.
The U.S would win back lost trust by granting EU citizens the right to sue U.S. agencies that violate their privacy rights, Reding said in a statement before the meeting.
“It is important that a European boarding a plane in Rome or searching the web from his home in Germany has a right of judicial redress in the U.S. whenever their personal data are being processed in the U.S.,” Reding said. An accord “will contribute to restoring trust in trans-Atlantic relations, which is of particular importance at this moment in time.”
“Every U.S. citizen in the European Union already enjoys” the right to judicial redress “irrespective of whether he or she is resident in the EU,” said Reding. “But European citizens who are not resident in the U.S. do not enjoy this right.”
Officials would work to resolve that question, according to the joint statement, which called it “a critical issue for the EU.”
EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem also took part in yesterday’s talks as the 28-nation bloc pressed for clarification of the extent of U.S surveillance programs.
President Barack Obama’s administration and U.S. lawmakers have said they are open to placing restrictions on the NSA, including what kind of data it can collect, how its databases can be mined, the ability to eavesdrop on foreign leaders and requiring the agency to defend its requests against a privacy advocate before a secret intelligence court. Most of the spying was exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The EU’s Reding is struggling to win approval for separate proposals to bolster the EU’s privacy rules, which date to 1995, including measures to implement tougher constraints on U.S. technology companies. The overhaul could result in U.S.-based technology companies facing fines as high as 100 million euros ($135 million) for data-protection violations.
Advocates of toughening Europe’s data protection have called for new rules to be adopted before European Parliament elections in 2014. EU leaders last month bowed to U.K. demands for a slowdown in adoption of the data-protection law to consider the effect of the legislation on businesses, dropping the 2014 deadline in favor of a pledge to introduce the plans in “timely fashion.”