Tuesday, July 01, 2008
EU Pact with USA
New pact would give EU citizens' data to US
Ian Traynor in Paris
Monday June 30, 2008
A comprehensive transatlantic pact clearing the way for the unprecedented supply of private data on European citizens to the American authorities is to be promoted by France in support of the US-driven campaign to combat terrorism and transnational crime.
The French government is expected to use its six-month presidency of the EU, starting tomorrow, to build on 18 months of confidential negotiations between Washington and Brussels aimed at clearing the complex legal obstacles to the exchange of personal information with the Americans.
The controversial proposed pact, a "framework agreement" on common data protection principles, is likely to enable the Americans to access the credit card histories, banking details and travel habits of Europeans, although senior officials in Brussels deny US reports that the Americans will also be able to snoop on the internet browsing records of Europeans.
"Everybody's keen on this and sees the benefit of it. The French are very keen to continue the work," said a senior official in Brussels. "There's all sorts of information stored on computers nowadays that may be of interest to law enforcement agencies. If we reach agreement, we may well contemplate turning it into a binding international agreement."
The Americans want to seal the accord this year, while George Bush is still in the White House. But the European commission, running the negotiations along with EU member states, believes a quick deal is unlikely and that its conclusion will hinge on the energy with which the incoming US administration tackles the subject.
The negotiations, being conducted by a "high-level contact group" of European and US department of homeland security officials, have been led for the past 18 months by Stewart Baker on the US side and Jonathan Faull, a Briton responsible for justice and home affairs in the commission.
The US drive to gain access to the private data of Europeans is the latest episode in a systematic American campaign.
Under separate agreements being negotiated, Washington is insisting on having armed guards on flights from Europe to the US, is introducing a new electronic travel authorisation system where travellers to the US would need to apply online for permission to fly before buying a ticket, and last year the EU yielded to American pressure to supply the US authorities with 19 pieces of information on passengers flying from Europe to America.
Washington is using its visa-waiver system, making travel to the US visa-free for most European countries, to force EU states to comply with its demands.
"This is outrageous," said Sophie In't Veld, a Dutch Liberal MEP on the European parliament's civil liberties committee. "This is about fundamental rights. But it has all been done in secret by civil servants behind closed doors."
The two sides are said to have reached agreement on about a dozen areas, but a big sticking point remains legal redress for Europeans who feel they are being victimised by US possession of information that may be incorrect or used incorrectly.
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