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By Stephen Gardner
Jan. 8 — The proposed European Union-U.S. Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade deal should contain a “comprehensive and unambiguous” exemption for European Union data protection rules, according to a draft European Parliament opinion drawn up by the Parliament's lead data protection negotiator, Jan Philipp Albrecht.
According to the Jan. 6 opinion, which Albrecht prepared for the European Parliament's Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE), TTIP should “guarantee full respect for EU fundamental rights standards,” and shouldn't undermine EU safeguards on transfers of personal data outside the bloc.
In addition, TTIP could be used as a means to protect EU citizens from mass electronic surveillance, according to the opinion. Data protection authorities and many lawmakers in the EU are concerned about the scope of data collection activities by the U.S. National Security Agency.
“The consent of the European Parliament to the final TTIP agreement could be endangered as long as the blanket mass surveillance activities are not completely abandoned,” the draft text said.
Albrecht is a German Green lawmaker who is the European Parliament's lead negotiator on the EU's data protection reform effort.
Albrecht's draft opinion, will, if approved by LIBE, be forwarded to the European Parliament's International Trade Committee, which is preparing an overarching European Parliament resolution on TTIP. Neither the LIBE opinion nor the final resolution would be binding.
The European Parliament didn't set a deadline for submission of amendments to Albrecht's draft text, or set a date for when the proposed LIBE opinion will be debated.
The European Parliament resolution on TTIP is being prepared amid the concerns of some lawmakers and advocacy groups that the EU-U.S. TTIP talks lack transparency. Albrecht's draft opinion said that, in particular, a draft TTIP chapter on electronic commerce hasn't been made available to members of the European Parliament.
The TTIP talks, which are aimed at coordinating EU and U.S. regulation in several areas, started in July 2013.
The EU Ombudsman, who investigates allegations of mismanagement by EU institutions, published a decision Jan. 6 that said the European Commission, which is negotiating for the EU side, should more openly provide information about TTIP.
The commission Jan. 7 published draft negotiating texts drawn up by EU negotiators and several fact sheets on TTIP chapters.
These make little reference to data protection, apart from a statement in one fact sheet on services that “data protection standards won't be part of TTIP negotiations. TTIP will make sure that the EU's data protection laws prevail over any commitments.”
A European Parliament official who asked not to be named told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 8 that this statement hasn't assuaged lawmakers' concerns.
“The commission has only revealed commission proposals,” and there was concern that as the negotiations progress, U.S. proposals, especially in the e-commerce chapter, which hasn't been published, “could undermine our data protection,” the official said.
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The draft LIBE opinion on recommendations to the European Commission on TTIP is available at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//NONSGML+COMPARL+PE-546.558+01+DOC+PDF+V0//EN.
The decision of the EU Ombudsman on transparency and TTIP is available at http://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/en/cases/decision.faces/en/58668/html.bookmark.
Full text of the European Commission fact sheet “Services in TTIP” is available at http://op.bna.com/pl.nsf/r?Open=dapn-9skr2p .
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