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The European Union (EU) has had some serious privacy concerns. They have lost trust in the US government over NSA and GCHQ spying. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is meeting with US President Obama today to discuss data privacy. EU VPNs for Internet connections have been giving EU citizens privacy from online spies. If talks go well, non-US citizens may get data privacy without them.
US Data Privacy Extended to EU Citizens
The US government has decided to grant data privacy to non-US citizens. The announcement came just in time for the scheduled meeting with Angela Merkel. José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, is also in the US visiting Silicon Valley. The result of US and EU trade negotiations depend heavily on how the issue of data privacy is handled. The EU has lost confidence in the US after their invasive spy activities were laid bare.
The White House recently issued a report on Big Data. The report includes several points on data privacy that the EU brought up. This is independent from the earlier investigation of US spy activities after Merkel discovered that her phone was bugged. The report makes several suggestions. Most revolve around passing more laws for data gathering by intelligence programs.
Privacy Act to Cover EU Citizens
The 1974 Privacy Act is scheduled to be reworked so it can provide data privacy for citizens of foreign countries. Additional privacy guidelines will also be established where the Privacy Act cannot apply. This is meant to ensure that any data collected on foreigners will be protected. Both the US government and private US companies will be held accountable for the way they handle data. It is still not clear, however, what legal recourse, if any, foreign citizens have when their privacy is breached.
Earlier this year, Obama proposed reforms to overseas US intelligence gathering. This new move to extend data privacy protection to non-US citizens is a separate proposal. But Obama has made it clear that he wishes the reworking of the Privacy Act to go hand in hand with his intelligence reforms.
The Big Data reports suggests that private companies be prevented from using the data they gather to discriminate against foreigners. This is a good move, but it does not tackle the pressing issue of commercial surveillance. Many big Internet companies gather a lot of user data. Center for Digital Democracy’s Jeffrey Chester says that companies like Facebook and Google might even be encouraged by the proposal.
EU VPNs for Privacy
EU VPNs have been used by EU citizens to provide Internet privacy as they work on ways to secure data privacy. Many providers offering EU VPNs have also added servers in several EU member countries. EU VPNs are what have been protecting EU citizens from illicit data gathering. Since the NSA spying programs were exposed, more people have been signing up for EU VPNs.
If the 1974 Privacy Act is extended to afford data privacy to EU citizens, EU VPNs may no longer be necessary. Some EU citizens may continue to rely on EU VPNs, however. Trust is not going to be so easily reestablished between the US and EU member countries. In any case, the use of EU VPNs is not going to decline anytime soon. Getting the Privacy Act to apply to EU citizens could take a year, even if work on it were to begin without delay.