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EU welcomes 'constructive' NSA surveillance talks

European and US justice officials have agreed to work towards "restoring trust" after the NSA scandal. The EU's Viviane Reding told DW she saw signs of an "absolutely new" attitude to Europeans' privacy.

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EU justice commissioner in Washington

Viviane Reding, the European Commission's vice president and justice commissioner, welcomed talks in Washington with US Attorney General Eric Holder on the allegations of widespread spying in Europe by the National Security Agency (NSA).

In an interview with Deutsche Welle after the meeting late on Monday, Reding concluded that "what the Americans said today suggests they are willing to work to restore confidence."

The US Departments of Justice and Homeland Security said in a joint statement that "it is of the utmost importance to address these issues by restoring trust and reinforcing our cooperation on justice and home affairs issues."

The meeting took place hours after German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the Bundestag that Transatlantic relations, including early negotiations on an EU-US free trade deal, were being "put to the test" by the information leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Documents Snowden released in October suggested that Merkel's own phone might have been tapped.

'Completely new' approach considered?

Reding told DW she believed there was a chance for reforms on how people's data and privacy were protected, pointing to previous statements from Holder and US President Barack Obama.

"What is new in these reforms is that they are not just about Amercian citizens, but also about how European citizens should be treated. And that is absolutely new," Reding said. "Previously in such matters, only American citizens were considered." She stressed, however, that policies pertaining to intelligence agencies would be an issue for individual nation states to discuss.

The meeting between Reding and Holder was part of talks about private data protection scheduled to continue into early 2014. The joint statement issued by Brussels and Washington specifically named "judicial redress" for Europeans as an issue under discussion. The EU has long sought improved legal rights for its citizens either arriving at US airports or customs, or wishing to lodge complaints in the US from afar.

"If a German or an Austrian gets on a plane in Munich to go to Washington, and his passenger data is interpreted wrongly or he is mistaken for someone else by the Americans, he can encounter huge problems when he steps off the plane in the US, but he has no chance to defend himself before US courts," Reding said. "An American in the same case in Europe is able to enforce his rights in European courts."

The EU was seeking such rights for its citizens before Edward Snowden jumped into the limelight.

msh/se (AFP, dpa)

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