EU outlines improvements to US data agreement

Concerned about U.S. surveillance programs, the EU wants to update the rules on American tech companies that collect data about EU citizens.

On Friday, the European Commission outlined improvements it wants to see in the safe harbor agreement between the EU and U.S.

That agreement allows American tech companies to collect and process data from European citizens, despite what the report calls “substantial differences in privacy regimes between the EU and the U.S.”

After this year’s revelations about U.S. surveillance, European lawmakers have been critical of the safe harbor agreement, questioning the adequacy of protections it has for European citizens whose data is processed by American companies and then accessed by U.S. government surveillance agencies.

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Last month, the EU Parliament Civil Liberties Committee passed a regulation that would restrict the way foreign companies can share data of European users with third parties, including foreign government agencies.

The regulation’s sponsor, Jan Philipp Albrecht of Germany, said that the regulation would not affect the safe harbor agreement directly, but encouraged U.S. officials to demonstrate that they were willing to create a legal environment where Europeans’ data would be protected.

While the agreement allows governments to access data for national security reasons, Friday’s report notes, “the question has arisen whether the large-scale collection and processing of personal information under U.S. surveillance programmes is necessary and proportionate to meet the interests of national security.”

In the report, the Commission recommends a requirement that foreign countries use that national security exception to the agreement “only to an extent that is strictly necessary or proportionate.”

The report recommends that companies be required to publish information about how they comply with their countries’ laws that allow government entities to access foreign users’ data.

The report also includes recommendations about transparency requirements for companies participating in the safe harbor program, requirements for investigations of companies that are violating the agreement and requirements for providing European citizens redress if their rights are violated.

“The Commission is calling on U.S. authorities to identify remedies by summer 2014,” the Commission said. 

“The Commission will then review the functioning of the Safe Harbour scheme based on the implementation of these 13 recommendations.”