Even after terrorists conducted coordinated attacks in several locations in Paris, Europeans continue to value their privacy from government security agencies. They will be monitoring how U.S. surveillance policies affect them, according to one European Union official.
Vera Jourová, the European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, warned an audience at the Brookings Institution on Monday about the perils of implementing increased surveillance in the face of terrorism. “This is the attack on our values and basic principles. What we value is our freedom. What is part of our freedom is the protection of privacy. This is what they want, that we change these basic things which society is based on,” Jourová said.
Europeans are particularly concerned about American government surveillance, even after the Paris attack, she said. “We need to find all the possible ways how we can continuously monitor the necessity and proportionality of surveillance in the United States towards the data of European citizens,” she said.
To this point, Jourová highlighted the importance of Congress passing the Judicial Redress Act, which would extend the privacy rights that American citizens enjoy to E.U. citizens. The bill would allow E.U. individuals to sue U.S. federal agencies under privacy law if they mishandle their personal information.
Jourová is visiting the U.S. to help negotiate a cross-Atlantic data sharing agreement to replace the now-defunct “Safe Harbor” agreement. Europe’s highest court struck down the agreement on Oct. 6 because of European wariness about how the American government handles foreign and domestic citizens’ data. The U.S. and E.U. now have until Jan. 31 to come up with a replacement agreement.
The U.S. government’s handling of surveillance, largely publicized with the revelations of the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection program, damaged the country’s reputation regarding their protection of data, especially in Europe where many countries such as Germany have strict data protection and privacy laws.
“Of course surveillance is the main issue, and that is also the reason why we did not conclude the negotiations on Safe Harbor before summer,” Jourová said.
Jourová said negotiators from the E.U. needed (and still need) an improved description of the exceptions that justify law enforcement’s access to data under the multinational agreement. But she was upbeat about the prospects. “From my Washington trip, I have a very good feeling that our U.S. colleagues, also in the field of surveillance, are more collaborative and will better understand what we need,” Jourová said.
She has also met with America companies about their role in shutting down terrorist plots online. “I must say that the companies, and I spoke to big players, they understood fully that they are part of the problem, so they must be part of the solution,” Jourová said.