• Heritage Action
  • More
Executive Memorandum #992 on Europe

February 14, 2006

EU Privacy Directive Could Prohibit Information Sharing with U.S. Law Enforcement

By

In October 2005, the European Commission released a proposed Framework Decision to protect personal data used in criminal matters. The proposed directive's goals include (1) improv­ing cooperation among European Union countries, especially in pre­venting and combating terrorism; (2) ensuring that EU states respect fundamental privacy rights; and (3) ensuring smooth data exchanges between states. These are laudable goals that, if realized, could be helpful in combating terrorism and other transna­tional crimes, such as drug and human trafficking and financial fraud. However, Article 15 of the Framework Decision includes provisions that would impede intelligence, police, and judicial cooperation both among EU states and with non-EU states.

Article 15 outlines requirements for sharing data with third-party states, such as the United States. This is problematic because the EU views U.S. pri­vacy protections as inadequate; thus, the directive would likely prohibit cooperation and information sharing with the United States. Impeding such data exchanges would make fighting the war on terror­ism even more difficult. The U.S. government should work with the EU to ensure that passage of the directive does not prohibit intelligence sharing between the United States and EU states.

Past EU Privacy Directives. The proposed direc­tive is not the first EU effort to standardize privacy protections within the EU. The EU considers the privacy of personal data as a fundamental right, and its privacy regulations outline common rules for both public and private enti­ties within the EU that hold or transmit personal data. The 1995 EU Data Protection Directive pro­hibits the transfer of personal data to a non-EU state unless that state is certified as having adequate pri­vacy protections. This directive relies on comprehensive legisla­tion that requires, for instance, the establishment of government data protection agencies and registra­tion of databases with those agencies. The EU does not believe that the United States meets these per­sonal data privacy protection requirements.

Since the United States takes a more segmented approach to privacy protection-relying on a mix of legislation, regulation, and self-policing-it devel­oped the U.S. Safe Harbor Privacy Principles as a way for U.S. companies to comply with the Data Protection Directive. Safe Harbor principles require (1) notice of the purposes for which the information is collected; (2) a choice to opt out of having infor­mation disclosed to a third party; (3) restriction of third-party data transfers to those that subscribe to Safe Harbor principles, the EU directive, or another adequate certification; (4) provision for a person to review personal information held about oneself so that inaccurate information can be changed, cor­rected, or deleted; (5) reasonable security precau­tions to protect information from loss, misuse, unauthorized access, disclosure, or alteration; and (6) data integrity, meaning that the information must be reliable for its intended purpose. Under this pro­gram, which the EU approved in 2000, enrolled U.S. companies that subscribe to Safe Harbor principles are deemed to meet EU privacy standards, allowing them to avoid both delays in business dealings and prosecution under EU privacy laws.

The Latest EU Privacy Directive. Article 15 of the Framework Decision addresses the transfer of personal data from one EU state to competent authorities in a third-party country (or interna­tional body) in cases in which the data were origi­nally provided by another EU state for law enforcement or judicial cooperation in a criminal matter. A data transfer must also meet four addi­tional criteria: First, a law must clearly authorize or require the transfer. Second, the data transfer must (1) be necessary for the same reason that the data were originally provided by the originating EU state; (2) aid in prevention, investigation, detec­tion, or prosecution of criminal offenses; or (3) pre­vent a threat to public security or a person. Third, the EU state that originally provided the data must authorize the data transfer to the receiving third-party country. Fourth, the receiving country must have an adequate level of data protection.

Member states will assess the receiving country's level of data protection processes based on the indi­vidual circumstances of each transfer or type of transfer. Specifically, the assessment will consider the type of data, the purpose and method of the transfer, the originating country and recipient coun­try, the applicable laws in the recipient country, the professional and security rules in the recipient coun­try, and the presence of sufficient safeguards.

EU member states and the European Commis­sion would be required to exchange information on whether third-party international bodies and coun­tries are meeting the data protection standards. If a third party does not meet the privacy standards, EU members would be required to take precautions to prevent transfer of personal data to it. The only exception to these rules would be a circumstance in which the personal data transfer is absolutely required to protect a member state's critical inter­ests or to prevent an imminent, serious danger to public security or to a specific person or group.

What Should Be Done. As the London and Madrid bombings and the latest Osama bin Laden tape demonstrate, terrorist groups remain active and dangerous. Only by sharing intelligence and cooperating can the countries of the world prevent attacks and deal with the perpetrators. If enacted, Article 15 will block much of the possible informa­tion sharing between the United States and its European allies; the Bush Administration should work with the EU to ensure that it does not under­mine the war on terrorism.

If Article 15 is enacted, the Bush Administration should work with the EU to create a program like Safe Harbor that allows law enforcement to side­step the Article 15 provisions. The program's prin­ciples might allow data transfers to a third party only if (1) the third party subscribes to Safe Harbor principles, the EU directives, or another adequate certification; (2) reasonable security cautions are in place to protect information from loss, misuse, unauthorized access, disclosure, or alteration; and (3) the data used in prosecution or prevention of crime are reliable for their intended purposes.

Conclusion. As written, Article 15 would pre­vent EU member states from sharing information with U.S. law enforcement agencies, impeding the ability of the U.S. to receive information needed to prosecute the war on terrorism. The President needs to ensure that EU privacy concerns do not hinder the war on terrorism. If necessary, the Administration should create a program for intelli­gence agencies and law enforcement like Safe Har­bor to facilitate the flow of information from EU members to U.S. law enforcement.

Alane Kochems is a Policy Analyst for National Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Stud­ies, at The Heritage Foundation.

Heritage's daily Morning Bell e-mail keeps you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.


The subscription is free and delivers you the latest conservative policy perspectives on the news each weekday--straight from Heritage experts.


The Morning Bell is your daily wake-up call offering a fresh, conservative analysis of the news.


More than 450,000 Americans rely on Heritage's Morning Bell to stay up to date on the policy battles that affect them.


Rush Limbaugh says "The Heritage Foundation's Morning Bell is just terrific!"


Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) says it's "a great way to start the day for any conservative who wants to get America back on track."


Sign up to start your free subscription today!