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6 Oct, 2010 06:06

Europe angry at US data-sharing demands

Anger is growing in Europe about new Washington data-sharing demands, in a move the US says is to stop potential terrorists from entering the country.

The requirements include fingerprints, DNA samples and access to criminal registers – data considered by many as private and sensitive.

Travelers from the countries refusing to share the information will have to apply for a visa to enter the US. Some EU states, such as Austria and Germany, have already agreed to hand over the personal data of their citizens.

In June the EU and the United States signed the so-called SWIFT deal, giving American government officials access to all bank transactions within Europe.

Austrian politician and member of the European Parliament Eva Lichtenberger says there are no guarantees the data will not be misused if provided.

”We still see member states that are reluctant to agree to that because they seem to have not the same rights on the other side of the Atlantic’s, firstly, and secondly, the structure of the database in the US and in Europe is very different,” she said.

”We have to collaborate if there is a clear case about some people, about some transfers, then we really have to go for it, but if it is mass data that is processed, this can be misused and we really have difficulties to control which use the US makes of the data they get,” Lichtenberger added.

”We have a problem that the US expects us to be adapted to their system, but it is very difficult to convince them that they should also adapt to ours, concerning, especially, data protection,” she concluded.

According to German politician and member of EU Parliament Alexander Alvaro, EU countries who have agreed to send information to the USA try to do so selectively.

”The United States are explaining their demand for personal data with the need to fight terrorism. Though it is true within Europe we sometimes have the doubt if this amount of personal data, including social security numbers, question of religion, is really necessary in the fight against terrorism,” he said.

”Within our ongoing negotiations with the US we definitely are asking for proof if the requested data is in total necessary and we are trying to limit the number of data sets which are actually not being requested but sent over to the United States,” Alvaro added.

Europeans do not mind the fight against terrorism, said Rui Tavares, member of the European Parliament, but they want it to be absolutely transparent on the American side. In the course of negotiations, he explained, Europe insisted it would send an overseer to the United States to check which information is being researched, and stop any undesirable data checks.

“We managed to get a European overseer in Washington which will be looking over the Americans’ shoulders… and with the powers to stop the search that he or she will deem inappropriate. The problem is that now the European Commission is not willing to tell us the name of this person in Washington, so we are at this ironic situation, when the privacy of on person… that should be public from the outset, is better protected than the privacy of 500 million European citizens,” he said.