“Internet Regulation is a Must”

Questions to Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Justice

EU Commissioner Viviane Reding proposes a hefty penalty for companies who violate privacy online, up to two percent of global turn-over. She also demands equal treatment of Europeans in the United States and Americans in Europe over data protection.

European Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding met the press after a citizen dialogue earlier this week. Many of the questions regarded Snowden and data protection.

Per Strömbäck: What has Edward Snowden’s whistle-blowing meant to the European Union’s discussion on data protection?

Viviane Reding: Edward Snowden showed that many EU countries do the same sort of surveillance as the US. This was a real wake-up call for me. I have worked now more than two years intensively on reforming the rights of the European citizens to their personal data, to be protected. The European treaty foresees that personal data belongs to the individual. So it’s not even a question of if we want to regulate or not, it is a must.

It is also important for our companies because European companies have to abide by rules. The data protection authorities do not have the tools in order to force these big foreign companies to abide to the rules, so it is very important to equip them with such tools. In my proposal the data protection authorities in member states will have the possibility to sanction one of those misbehaving companies up to 2% of their worldwide turn-over. That means to give them teeth, so that the application of the rules will happen in the real term.

Our American counter-parts have also now accelerated the speed of their work. They didn’t think that data protection was that important, but now president Obama in a speech has said that yes he wants to have the privacy bill and there is a bi-partisan initiative in Congress in order to arrive at such a bi-partisan bill on privacy. That would be the best solution, that there is solid law in the United States, solid law in Europe and that we can work together in such a way that American citizens and European citizens can be protected.

PS: Will the data protection rules have real effects?

VR: Not completely to be honest. Secret services in a purely national remit but they do not operate in a vacuum. The basic laws which we have apply also to secret services as well and the governments have to see that secret services apply those.  They need to get data and very often they need to get data from private companies. The mutual legal assistance agreement is a rule between Europe and United States in order to get this data. But what is happening is that these rules are not used and instead it is a form of blackmail of these companies. And since our data protection authorities don’t have the real biting possibilities, companies who are confronted can disobey the European without much consequence. However, if they disobey the Americans it is much worse. But with the new rules I have proposed it will have a real consequence. Two percent of your world-wide turn-over… that hurts.

I also have to say that equal treatment of Europeans in the States and Americans in Europe is very important. That is in the proposal of the umbrella agreement for sharing data for law enforcement.

Per Strömbäck
Editor Netopia