European Union and U.S. officials are meeting this week in Washington to launch talks on an agreement on how personal data should be treated when the two sides cooperate on terrorism and other crime-related issues.
European Commission Vice President Viviane Reding, who also serves as the commission's Justice minister, and other EU officials are meeting Thursday with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder on the issue.
"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," the commission said in a news release Wednesday. "Once in place, the agreement would enhance EU and U.S. citizens' right to access, rectify or delete data when it is processed with the aim to prevent, investigate, detect or prosecute criminal offenses, including terrorism."
The U.S. and EU have negotiated issue-specific agreements over the exchange of airline passenger data and financial information related to terrorism probes but the talks launched Thursday are aimed at reaching an umbrella agreement dealing with all other transfers of personal data related to EU-U.S. cooperation on criminal and terrorism-related matters. EU officials were quick to note that the agreement would not allow for the transfer of specific data, such information would still require a legal basis for its transfer. Instead, it would address how such data might be treated once a legal basis is found for its transfer.
The commission approved a mandate last week for the negotiations that calls for ensuring an agreement provides a "coherent and harmonized" set of standards for the protection of data that adheres to such principles as retaining a minimal amount of data for the least amount of time. In addition, commission negotiators are urged to ensure that the agreement's standards are in line with the EU's existing data privacy rules.
"I am convinced that working together we can negotiate a solid and coherent agreement with the U.S. that balances credible and enforceable rights for individuals with the strong cooperation we need to prevent and fight terrorism and organized crime," Reding said. "Speedy progress on the comprehensive EU-U.S. data protection agreement will significantly facilitate all data transfers necessary to fight terrorism and transnational organized crime."