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The United States and European Union have begun formal negotiations on an agreement to protect personal information they exchange to fight crime and terrorism.
The EU and the US have a different take on privacy rights
Officials from the United States and the European Union met Thursday in Hungary in an effort to improve cooperation between Europe and the US in fighting terrorism, organized crime and cyber crime. Those efforts have been overshadowed by transatlantic differences over how much personal information the countries should share on their citizens.
Speaking after the US European Union Justice and Home Affairs ministerial meeting in the Royal Palace of Godollo near Budapest, US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano confirmed that negotiations would continue soon in Washington.
"We believe that sharing of passenger name record information is and can be very consistent with protecting privacy rights. The challenge is to knit them together effectively. Those negotiations are underway," Napolitano said.
Reding says the next talks should focus on protecting fundamental rights
There are already bilateral agreements between the EU and US on sharing at least some information on banking and airline passengers to fight cross-border crime and terrorism. But European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said the next round of negotiations should lead to an agreement on protecting fundamental rights of American and European citizens.
Right to privacy
"You can not, on one hand, think only about security issues without thinking about the basic values of the citizens and the right of the citizens to the protection of their private data," Reding said.
She added it was therefore important to reach an umbrella agreement, which would harmonize data protection standards and involve an independent body to oversee the information exchange.
However, there is concern about how to secure the data exchange at a time when hackers have even managed to enter the computer system of the European Commission. The European Commission said it expects a Computer Emergency Response Team to be ready by the end of May to tackle cyber crime, with the European police organization, Europol, playing a major role in supporting member states.
Refugees brings new challenges
Talks over the information exchange about individual people also come as Europe is facing a massive influx of refugees from Libya and other countries in turmoil. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the US stands ready to help Europe hammer out the details.
The US and Europe share data to fight cocaine trafficking
"What we are talking about specifically in terms of best practices sharing is, with respect to biographic data, biometric data, how one identifies who are refugees, who are asylum seekers. How do you deal with accompanied minors?"
The European Justice Commissioner expressed her confidence that a deal could be reached.
"The European Parliament is going to watch very closely what we are doing, and after an intensive exchange of views, I think we'll make it very soon," Reding said.
The US and Europe have already agreed to increase transatlantic cooperation in tackling organized crime, especially cocaine trafficking, explained US Attorney General Eric Holder.
The gathering was held in Hungary as the country currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union. It is also the 10th anniversary of the Council of Europe's Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, which has been signed by 47 nations.
Author: Stefan Bos, Budapest /smh
Editor: Andreas Illmer