Privacy, net neutrality, security, encryption ... Europe tells Obama, US Congress to back off

Letter from 50 MEPs stresses EU will decide own laws, thanks

A letter sent to the US Congress by over 50 members of the European Parliament has hit back at claims of "digital protectionism" emanating from the United States.

Sent on Wednesday, the letter [PDF] takes issue with criticisms from President Obama and Congress over how the EU is devising new laws for the digital era.

"We are surprised and concerned about the strong statements coming from US sources about regulatory and legislative proposals on the digital agenda," it reads. "While many of these are still in very early stages, President Obama spoke of 'digital protectionism,' and many in the private sector echo similar words."

It then informs US politicians that Europeans have their own representatives and will make their own laws, thanks very much.

We have different ideas on privacy and platforms, net neutrality and encryption, Bitcoin, zero-days, or copyright. We will seek to improve and change any proposal from the European Commission, in the interest of our citizens and of all people.

It also takes a stab at the "Silicon Valley argument" where the success of tech companies in the San Francisco Bay Area is frequently held out as evidence that the US approach to commerce is more effective.

"While we admire the dynamism and success of Silicon Valley," the letter says, "we trust in Europe's ability to foster talent, creativity and entrepreneurship. The acronym 'GAFA' is not one we ever use, and we do not see legislation as a way to manage the growth of companies."

"GAFA" is a new term used most frequently in France and standing for "Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon." It is used in a derogatory way and represents frustrations that European have with the large tech companies, particularly over how they pay little or no tax in Europe while reaping billions in profits, and try to work their way around European laws, particularly over privacy.

Bot was that?

The difference in views over how to handle the internet era and its data is especially noticeable in a decision this week by the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), Yves Bot.

Bot essentially tore up the 16-year "safe harbor" agreement covering transmission of private data between the US and Europe in the face of the Edward Snowden revelations that that data was being gathered and stored by the US' National Security Agency (NSA).

US companies are not protecting European citizens' private data, and so national government regulators are entitled to take whatever measures they deem necessary to protect their citizens, said Bot.

The MEP letter to Congress does not reference data privacy directly but does make it plain that Europe is big enough as an entity to make its own rules and have US companies abide by them: "By removing barriers and updating the regulatory framework, we seek to make entrepreneurship and innovation easier, supporting both businesses and consumers. This is for the benefit of all those trading in Europe, including US tech firms, for whom the regulatory landscape should become more harmonized and thus more easy to navigate."

The politicians argue that the difference in opinion is "not a 'Transatlantic rift' and should not be made into one.

But while noting that they "consider close cooperation between the EU and the US as vital," the letter signs off with one more poke in the eye to Congress: "Artificially deepening the Transatlantic divide on digital topics is not what we need. Instead, let's build trust and exchange ideas, but accept that a variety of views are an integral part of our open democracies." ®


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