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In Germany, public anger over the interception of Chancellor Merkel’s mobile phone by NSA intelligence services  - known as Handygate - is indicative of the high level of feeling against the United States on the issue of data privacy.  And now it has emerged  that German MEPs are hatching a retaliatory plan that  would impose a legal barrier to US  firms who want to export European citizens' data to the US for processing. 

The proposal has come not from the left of the European Parliament, as one might expect, but surprisingly, from the right. Manfred Weber, a German MEP from the Conservative EPP group, has told the German news managzine Der Spiegel  that  the EU  should  terminate a long-standing agreement that underpins the transfer of European citizens’ personal data to the United States.

This is the so-called ‘safe harbor’ agreement, which was put in place  in an attempt to provide a level of legal protection for  European citizens’s data, when it is held and processed in the US by American companies. Under ‘safe harbor’, they should implement the same rules that they are obliged to put in place in  EU countries. However, the situation has changed considerably in the decade or more since ‘safe harbor’ was drafted.  In that time, Google,  FaceBook, Twitter, eBay, Amazon and Skype, some of which were not even conceived when the ‘safe harbor’ drafters wrote their text,  have all emerged as major global players – and they hold a lot of data on European citizens that they regularly transfer to the US for processing. Many other firms have also registered under the agreement.

 Manfred Weber  believes it is time for a new form of regulation of data transfers between the EU and the US.  The USA and US-based businesses should “play the game according to European rules” he told Der Spiegel.

Mr Weber tweeted that he is already drafting the text for  a Motion for a Resolution, calling for an end to ‘safe harbor' to put before the European Parliament. He  is calling on other Party Groups to join him in putting forward the Resolution, and has immediately secured the support of Jan-Philipp Albrecht, the rapporteur for the Data Protection Directive. Mr Albrecht is also a German MEP, his support for such a motion would not normally be surprising, except that he is from the Green group - usually an opponent, rather than an ally, of the EPP.

If ‘safe harbor’ were to be  terminated,  it would impose a legal barrier to the continued operation of US companies who transfer data across the Atlantic, although there is probably little to enforce it under current legislation. That’s where the new Data Protection Regulation would step in, when and if adopted, with its super-strong sanctions.

 What’s interesting is that Manfred Weber is deputy leader of the conservative EPP group,which gives him a bit of clout. However, the EPP is not usually known for taking a radical stance on anything, especially where industry is concerned.

 It's more than likely  that Mr Weber’s move is being driven by domestic politics at home in Germany, where the alleged interception of the mobile phone of Chancellor Angela Merkel by US intelligence agents in the NSA, has caused outrage in the media and among the population. The affair has become known as ‘Handygate’, after the German word for a mobile phone, (pronounced ‘hendy’).

 In that context, some members of Mr Weber’s  party, the Christian Social Union of Bavaria,  have called for the EU-US trade talks to be put on ice,  and others have criticised the United States for a  grave breach of trust.

 This is an original article from and reflects research that I have carried out. If you refer to it or to its content, please cite my name as the author, and provide a link back to Media and Academics – please cite as Monica Horten, 2013, EU Privacy rules – terminate ‘safe harbor’ says German MEP in,  28 October 2013.  Commercial users - please contact me.


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Copyright Enforcement Enigma launch, March 2012

In 2012, I presented my PhD research in the European Parliament.

Don't miss Iptegrity!  RSS/ Bookmark is the website of Dr Monica Horten. She is a policy analyst specialising in Internet governance & European policy, including platform accountability. She is a published author & Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics & Political Science. She served as an independent expert on the Council of Europe Committee on  Internet Freedom. She has worked on CoE, EU and UNDP funded projects in eastern Europe and the Caucasus. In a voluntary capacity, she has led UK citizen delegations to the European Parliament. She was shortlisted for The Guardian Open Internet Poll 2012.

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