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EU Digital Commish: Ja, we should have done more about NSA spying

Oetti pins hopes on a 're-negotiated' safe harbour

Europe’s outspoken digi Commissioner, Günther H-dot Oettinger has admitted that the European Commission did too little, too late in reaction to Edward Snowden’s NSA spying revelations.

Following a landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) striking down the EU-US data sharing Safe Harbor agreement on Tuesday, Oetti told German daily Der Spiegel that “a mandatory government agreement would be the best solution” but that he didn’t believe it was likely to happen.

The second-best option is a re-negotiated arrangement, said Oettinger, for once sticking to the Commission official line. He said clarity was urgently needed for “the many medium-sized companies that are now feeling insecure”.

Safe Harbor is the workaround agreement between the EU and the US that allows international companies to transfer Europeans’ personal data to the US even though the US does not meet the adequacy standards for EU data protection law. Companies signed up to a voluntary code of conduct that was then enforced by the American Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

But on Tuesday, the ECJ ruled that the pact was unsound, since it cannot protect EU personal data from snooping by the US National Security Agency and other American agencies.

Oettinger acknowledged that the Commission done too little against the widespread misuse of data by the NSA. “We have not monitored [surveillance] practices in the US for many years consistently enough,” Oettinger said. “This ruling provides an opportunity for self-criticism.”

In a special technical briefing on Wednesday, Commission sources pointed out that the arrangement had been put in place BEFORE the introduction of the US Patriot Act - implying that the Commish couldn’t have known about any spying at that time. That all changed thanks to whistleblower-in-chief Edward Snowden.

The European Parliament has also criticised the Commission. MEP Claude Moraes, head of the Parliament's civil liberties committee, said the Commish should have heeded the Parliament’s call for Safe Harbor to be suspended straight away. ®

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