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The Trans-Atlantic divide on privacy just became a little wider

europe-usa-eu-flags.preview_0By Simon Davies

Over the past three weeks the so-called “Trans-Atlantic Divide” on privacy between the US and Europe has widened significantly. This shift could indicate new dynamics in the global push on America to institute more meaningful privacy safeguards for non-US persons.

In this short period the European Parliament and the European courts have created strengthened protections that will place further pressure on the US Administration to make ongoing efforts to respect individual rights at a global level.

The European Parliament and the European courts have created strengthened protections that will place further pressure on the US Administration to make efforts to respect individual rights at a global level.

First, as reported on this site earlier today, the European Court of Justice has overturned an EU Directive that had required service providers to store communications data on all their customers. This is a significant strike against mass surveillance that will have global repercussions for service providers and for law enforcement and security agencies.

Second, the European Parliament has almost unanimously passed a new data protection framework that strengthens privacy and information rights and which will force overseas based companies to respect those rights.

Finally – although not directly related to privacy – the Parliament last week approved strong Net Neutrality provisions, indicating a much more positive and informed position on a spectrum of key online issues.

There has also been a string of national court decisions that strengthen sovereign control and rights over online activities, including a UK ruling requiring Google to face its litigants on British territory and a German decision that Facebook is subject to its national data protection law.

It’s perhaps premature to suggest that these developments will create a sea change in relations between the two regions, but with developments in the free trade agreement and data transfer arrangements such as the Safe Harbour agreement in the balance, there’s an overall expectation that the US should create genuine reform efforts. In the post-Snowden era such thinking is becoming institutional.

Of course there is an EU election on the horizon – less than two months away – and the predictions are that the new parliament will be markedly different in nature. This, however, should not be misinterpreted by the US as a future easy ride on privacy issues. A more Euro-sceptic parliament may result in a stronger emphasis on sovereign protections. That situation could open a pandora’s box for US relations.