Science & Technology

European Union Acts To Shield Citizen Data from NSA and Other Spying



As my Reason colleague Matthew Feeney reported yesterday, the governments of France and Mexico are pissed to find out that the National Security Agency has been engaged in massive amounts of cyber-spying on their citizens and top officials. The revelations of the extent of NSA spying are fueling legislative efforts in the European Parliament to protect the privacy of their citizens. As the New York Times reports:

A panel of European Union lawmakers on Monday night backed a measure that could require American companies like Google and Yahoo to seek clearance from European officials before complying with United States warrants seeking private data.

The vote, by an influential committee at the European Parliament, is part of efforts in Europe to shield citizens from online surveillance in the wake of revelations about a far-reaching spying program by the National Security Agency of the United States. The legislation has been under consideration for two years.

The panel, meeting in Strasbourg, France, also endorsed ways of tightening other privacy rules, including fines that could run to billions of euros on the biggest technology companies if they fail to adhere to rules like limiting the sharing of personal data.

Sounds good as far as it goes, but it only goes so far. Citing intellectual property lawyer Andrew Sheridan, the Times further observes:

As for the restrictions on data sharing with American authorities, Mr. Sheridan said he expected "a pragmatic compromise" in the end.

If the proposal becomes law, existing agreements among individual European governments and the United States might keep data flowing across the Atlantic as part of efforts to fight terrorism and crime.

"There already are existing rules for data transfer between Europe and third-party countries like the United States," said Luca Schiavoni, a telecom regulatory analyst based in London with Ovum, a technology consulting firm.

It is kind of ironically amusing that the French government protests NSA spying on behalf of its citizens when it practices widespread domestic surveillance itself.

Governments just can't bring themselves to give up on state-sponsored voyeurism.