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EU, U.S. to start talks on protecting personal data

European Union and United States officials will kick off talks in Washington on 9 December on a personal data protection agreement when cooperating to fight terrorism or crime.

EU Justice Ministers approved the start of the negotiations on 3 December (see IP/10/1661). By reconciling security and citizens' rights, the agreement should enhance the long-term sustainability of the EU-US cooperation in fighting terrorism. The aim is to ensure a high level of protection of personal data such as passenger data or financial information that is transferred as part of transatlantic cooperation in criminal matters. Once in place, the agreement would enhance EU and US citizens’ right to access, rectify or delete data when it is processed with the aim to prevent, investigate, detect or prosecute criminal offences, including terrorism. For the EU, effective judicial review and a more proportionate use of data by public authorities are key objectives of the agreement.

"I look forward to meeting my US counterparts in Washington this week to kick start these important negotiations,” said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner. “I am convinced that working together we can negotiate a solid and coherent agreement with the US that balances credible and enforceable rights for individuals with the strong cooperation we need to prevent and fight terrorism and organised crime. Speedy progress on the comprehensive EU-US data protection agreement will significantly facilitate all data transfers necessary to fight terrorism and transnational organised crime.”

Since 11 September 2001 and subsequent terrorist attacks in Europe, the EU and US have stepped up police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. Sharing relevant information is an essential element of effective cooperation in the fight against crime – both within the EU and with the US. One important feature is the transfer and processing of personal data for the prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of crimes, including terrorism. At the same time, citizens’ rights to privacy need to be effectively protected. The European Parliament has raised this issue on several occasions, including in a resolution on 11 November 2010.

The future agreement would not provide the legal basis for any specific transfers of personal data between the EU and the US. A specific legal basis for such data transfers would always be required. The new EU-US data protection agreement would then apply to these data transfers.

The EU and US are committed to the protection of personal data and privacy. EU and US Justice and Home Affairs ministers have indentified the need to work together on common principles for transatlantic data transfers since 2006. In November 2009, leaders at the US-EU Summit in Washington confirmed the principles for a binding international agreement, including limiting data storage, independent oversight and individual access and rectification.

On Thursday, 9 December, the two sides will discuss the EU-US data protection agreement for the first time in Washington DC. The EU will be represented by Vice-President Reding.

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