EU needs privacy regulation after NSA ‘wake-up call,’ Parliament president says

Fueled by recent revelations about U.S. surveillance, Europe is determined to move forward with its privacy-enhancing regulation, European Union Parliament President Martin Schulz said Thursday.

Europe must “press on determinedly” with the update to its data protection legislation after the “wake-up call” about U.S. surveillance, Schulz said in Thursday’s speech to the European Council. Schulz cited recent reports about U.S. surveillance of European officials and citizens.

“We must ensure that our citizens’ fundamental rights are protected on the Internet ... by ensuring that companies from the USA and other countries which offer services in the EU are subject to our rules,” he said.

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The legislation would require American companies that process European users’ data to get permission before the companies share data with third parties, including government entities.

Companies that share user data without getting authorization from the relevant country’s data-protection authority — including sharing user data with a U.S. intelligence agency — would face penalties of at least 100 million Euros.

After 18 months of discussions, including heavy lobbying against the legislation by the U.S. tech industry, the EU Parliament Civil Liberties Committee passed the legislation in a landslide vote on Monday. The Parliament will now try to get EU countries to agree to adopt the legislation. If those agreements cannot be reached by the spring, the full Parliament will vote on the legislation.

“The overwhelming majority by which the data protection package was adopted last Monday is a powerful signal from Parliament in support of data protection,” Schulz said. 

Schulz also discussed the recent suspension of the U.S.-EU anti-terrorist data program and pledged to protect the rights of EU citizens during trade negotiations with the U.S.