NSA worries out of trade talk, negotiators say

Concerns about U.S. surveillance are not being addressed in an ongoing trade deal between the U.S. and the European Union, negotiators said Friday.

While the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership will not touch on government collection of data, it will address private companies’ access to data, negotiators said during a Friday press conference.

This week, the EU Commission’s Civil Liberties Committee — which approved a regulation earlier this year that would fine companies for sharing data of European citizens without authorization — encouraged negotiators to keep surveillance concerns out of the trade negotiation.

The committee also advocated for a separate “EU cloud” to keep data away from U.S. intelligence agencies and asked negotiators to reconsider the “safe harbor” agreement between the EU and U.S., which allows U.S. companies to process data from European citizens.

Last week, eight major tech companies launched a campaign to reform U.S. surveillance. The companies called for international cooperation so that foreign countries don’t keep their citizens’ data from American companies that comply with U.S. surveillance requests. 

The trade agreement “is not the right forum” for talks about U.S. surveillance programs, EU chief negotiator Ignacio Bercero said Friday.

However, he continued, the agreement will address private companies use of consumer data though its sections on e-commerce and cross-border data flows, which are “a very important component of a modern economy.”

American and European companies alike rely on the ability to send data across international borders, Dan Mullaney, chief negotiator for the U.S., said.

The trade agreement “should offer opportunities to facilitate and support those flows” of data “in a matter that remains respectful of the privacy regimes that exist on both sides of the Atlantic,” he said.

Some consumer and privacy advocates worry that the trade agreement will touch on surveillance and privacy concerns as it addresses e-commerce and cross-border data flows.

“We fear that [the U.S. Trade Representative] and U.S. industry lobbyists will achieve their goal of bypassing the EU's strong privacy protections through a e-commerce and data flows trade deal,” Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said.

Advocates, including Chester, presented to negotiators during the third round of negotiations on the trade deal, which took place in Washington, D.C. this week.

“Consumer advocates made it clear to USTR and the EU that data protection must be off limits and that any deal on e-commerce and data flows must protect privacy and ensure robust consumer protection,” Chester said.

“We believe the EU delegation strongly sympathizes with our views.”