In the wake of NSA revelations, European Union lawmakers have voted to approve new data protection rules that are aimed at curbing US spying activities and restrict transfers of information from Europe to third countries.
The measure makes America's secret court orders powerless, forcing companies based outside the EU - such Google and Yahoo - to comply with European data protection laws if they operate in Europe. Fines running into billions of Euros are set to discourage anyone from violating the new rules.
The draft bill - which is the first Brussels’ legislative response to Edward Snowden’s leaks about US mass surveillance program – was passed by the EU’s Committee on Civil Liberties on Monday in Strasbourg.
"The European Parliament has just given its full backing to a
strong and uniform European data protection law that will cut
costs for business and strengthen the protection of our citizens:
one continent, one law," said EU Justice Commissioner Viviane
Reding as cited by Reuters.
The document – which had earlier received a record-breaking 4,000 amendments - is likely to be further changed later. To come into force, it has to be approved by the Parliament’s plenary as well as the EU’s 28 members.
Many Europeans were outraged by former CIA employee, Snowden’s revelations that American companies – including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Yahoo – were required to share massive amounts of EU citizens’ personal online data such as e-mails, Web searches, phone calls and video chats with the National Security Agency (NSA).
The scandalous leaks forced EU politicians at last to find a compromise on an issue that had caused a two-year gridlock. The initial reform proposed in January 2012 was dropped after intense lobbying from the US.
On Monday, just as Brussels was gearing up for the vote on the new rules, the French Foreign Ministry summoned the US Ambassador to Paris demanding explanations following reports that the NSA also spied on French citizens.
“We have to accept that apparently, the NSA is monitoring the entire global telecommunications goings-on. We have to achieve a political, international agreement that this is unacceptable and has to be limited,” Alexander Dix, Berlin Commissioner for Data Protection told RT. “This applies to other intelligence [bureaus] as well, not only the American ones,” he added.
In Dix’s opinion, people deserve the protection of their rights. There must be limits to surveillance, while taking into account that there needs to be effective measures taken to combat terrorism and other crimes.