Obama Administration Criticizes EU Plan to Avoid NSA Data Surveillance as a Violation of Trade Agreement

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The United States has accused some of its leading European allies of endangering free trade agreements if they pursue the development of protected data networks to avoid American electronic spying operations.


Following revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) had snooped on German and French communications, government and corporate officials in Europe began discussing whether their nations should shield themselves from future NSA spying by keeping emails and other electronic information from passing through American-based networks. Doing so would mean establishing a European communications network that U.S. systems—both private and public—could not reach.


This idea, apparently, struck a nerve in the Obama administration, which decided to use its trade office to attack Europe’s plan for greater communications privacy.


“Recent proposals from countries within the European Union to create a Europe-only electronic network or to create national-only electronic networks could potentially lead to effective exclusion or discrimination against foreign service suppliers that are directly offering network services, or dependent on them,” the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) office warned in a new report.


A major proponent of such a system is Germany’s largest phone company, Deutsche Telekom AG (DTAG), which wants communications between Europeans to remain on the continent to bolster privacy protections.


“Specifically, DTAG has called for statutory requirements that all data generated within the EU not be unnecessarily routed outside of the EU; and has called for revocation of the U.S.-EU ‘Safe Harbor’ Framework, which has provided a practical mechanism for both U.S companies and their business partners in Europe to export data to the United States, while adhering to EU privacy requirements,” the USTR report says.


But the USTR didn’t stop there. In fact, the office employed some inflammatory—and what the Europeans would say was hypocritical—rhetoric in dismissing the plan.


“The United States and the EU share common interests in protecting their citizens’ privacy, but the draconian approach proposed by DTAG and others appears to be a means of providing protectionist advantage to EU-based ICT [information and communications technology] suppliers,” the report states.


U.S. tech companies, wanting to keep their slice of the e-commerce pie, have urged the Obama administration to address European privacy concerns and avoid protectionist policies.


Techdirt, a leading technology and business blog, says: “You’ve got to love the idea that too much privacy protection is ‘draconian.’”


“If you dare to try to protect yourselves by creating a slightly more secure EU-only cloud in response to the NSA breaking into everything and anything,” Techdirt’s Glyn Moody wrote, “you may find yourself referred to the World Trade Organization or something....”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

USTR Warns That EU-Only Cloud To Avoid NSA Surveillance May Violate Trade Agreements (by Glyn Moody, Techdirt)

U.S. Knocks Plans for European Communication Network (by Krista Hughes, Reuters)

2014 Section 1377 Review: On Compliance with Telecommunications Trade Agreements (Office of the United States Trade Representative) (pdf)

Germany Embraces Creation of European Data Networks as Shield from NSA (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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