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Privacy groups tell U.S. to stop lobbying EU on data law changes

The EFF, ACLU, EPIC, and more than a dozen other privacy and rights groups call on the U.S. to stop an "unprecedented lobbying campaign" over the proposed changes to EU data protection and privacy laws.

Zack Whittaker Writer-editor
Zack Whittaker is a former security editor for CNET's sister site ZDNet.
Zack Whittaker
3 min read

A coalition of privacy groups has written to leading U.S. politicians to seek assurances that policymakers "advance the aim of privacy" in Europe, rather than hinder the development of new European data protection and privacy laws.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), and more than a dozen other groups are seeking to meet with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and U.S. Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank, to ensure that new European data law proposals are bolstered and not weakened.

When made final, the European Union's Data Protection Regulation will govern the data and privacy laws of Europe's 27 member states.

In the letter (PDF) sent today, the 18 groups claim that U.S. and European citizens' privacy and personal data are "being abused by both the commercial sector and governments" and that the "line is increasingly blurred as personal data passes between both with few restrictions."

While European politicians continue to debate ever-amended drafts to the new EU Data Protection Regulation -- which seeks to replace an outdated 1995 directive -- U.S. policymakers are "mounting an unprecedented lobbying campaign to limit the protections that European law would provide," the letter states.

"The U.S. should not stand in the way of Europe's efforts to strengthen and modernize its legal framework," the letter states.

Administration 'working to protect' the lobby?
The new EU data protection and privacy law is meant to further protect the 500 million-plus European citizens' rights in an ever-globalizing world and borderless cloud.

A major concern is the extra-territorial effect of U.S. law on European citizens, notably with the FISA Amendments Act 2008 and sections of the Patriot Act for monitoring communications between Americans and foreigners.

One leading U.S. consumer protection and privacy organization warned that EU officials are being pressured by the U.S. to weaken the proposed privacy protections in the drafts of the data protection laws.

Center for Digital Democracy Executive Director Jeff Chester told ZDNet that despite the pro-privacy tone from President Obama, his administration is "working to protect the U.S. data lobby."

The privacy groups also noted that updating the U.S. Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) -- under which authorities need only a subpoena approved by a federal prosecutor, rather than a judge, to obtain electronically stored messages six months old or older -- "would be a good start for the strengthening of U.S. law and policy" to bring the country in compliance with international human rights norms.

EU 'fed up' with U.S. lobbying
A year ago, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said the lobbying effort had been "absolutely fierce" and unprecedented in scale, according to The Telegraph.

On Sunday, the head of an influential pan-European industry group criticized "intensifying pressure from U.S. lobbyists on behalf of Google and Facebook," in order to suit the needs of Silicon Valley technology companies, according to the Financial Times of London.

Jacob Kohnstamm, chairman of the EU's Article 29 Working Party -- a group of data protection officials from each of the EU's member states -- said European lawmakers are "fed up" with U.S. lobbying.

In sharp words aimed at the Americans, he said: "You're not going to change your Fourth Amendment because of a business model in Europe, are you?"

The European Parliament is expected to vote on the draft regulation around the end of April, according to the European Union.

Read more of "Privacy groups call on U.S. government to stop lobbying against EU data law changes" at ZDNet.