Europe pushes ahead with stricter data privacy rules

Reuters

By Luke Baker

BRUSSELS, Oct 21 (Reuters) - The European Parliament willvote on proposals to strengthen Europe's data protection laws onMonday, including plans to impose fines of up to 100 millioneuros on companies such as Yahoo!, Facebook or Google if theybreak the rules.

If approved as expected, the vote in parliament's civilliberties committee will open the way for further negotiationswith EU member states and the European Commission on the plans,the first revision to Europe's data laws since 1995.

In the nearly two decades since then, vast changes havetaken place in how data is generated, stored, shared and viewed,leaving lawmakers determined to get ahead of the game and draftrules that they say will better protect individuals.

In its legislative proposal unveiled in early 2012, theCommission suggested sanctions of up to 2 percent of globalturnover on companies that violate the rules, and said consumersshould have the "right to be forgotten" - that they should beable to remove their entire digital traces from the Internet.

The parliament's civil liberties committee has come up withnearly 4,000 amendments to the original plan, includingincreasing the fine to 5 percent of annual worldwide turnover or100 million euros, whichever is greater.

The changes, which parliamentary officials said theyexpected to be approved by the committee in a vote at 2030 GMT,would also mean the replacement of the "right to be forgotten"with "the right of erasure", seen as a lesser obligation.

Officials said the change in language was necessary as consultations with technology companies had made clear that itwould impossible to entirely remove someone's traces from theInternet. Individuals should not be promised something thatcould not be achieved, the officials said.

Parliament, in line with the Commission's proposals, alsowants to impose strict rules on how data is shared ortransferred to non-EU countries. For example, if the UnitedStates wants access to information held by Google or Yahoo!about a European citizen based in Europe, the firm would have toseek authorisation from a European data authority first.

That would establish an extra, EU-controlled gateway thatmight go some way to assuaging the profound concerns raised inEurope about U.S. data spying activities revealed via the leaksfrom former U.S. data analyst Edward Snowden.

Facebook, Yahoo!, Google and other Internet-based firms, thevast majority of them American, have lobbied against theCommission's proposal, concerned it will damage their businessmodel by imposing an extra, costly burden on how they handledata, and limit their ability to target goods at consumers.

U.S. authorities are also worried that if Europe establishesstrict new data rules, countries in Latin America, the MiddleEast, Africa and Asia will tend towards the European model,setting a higher global data-protection threshold.

That would leave the United States either having to offerthe same protections or lobbying to get countries to adopt itsless rigid code of protection, creating an uneven playing fieldthat could dent the competitiveness of U.S. firms.

If Monday's committee vote passes, negotiations with EUmember states and the European Commission are expected to startlater this year or early in 2014. EU leaders will discuss theissue at a summit in Brussels on Oct. 24-25 and could give someindication then of how quickly they want to proceed.

The aim is to have the legislation agreed before May, whenthe assembly breaks up and new European Parliament elections areheld. However, EU officials are not convinced this is feasible.

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