No Data Privacy, No Free Trade Agreement

No later than the dawn of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, everyone should have learned that anything that affects people and their everyday lives in the 21st century can no longer be negotiated secretly. Nor should they be. There are good reasons to conclude free trade agreements: job and wealth creation and lower costs for consumers of cross-border goods. Those hip Ray-Ban sunglasses will certainly get cheaper, as will automobiles. But it shouldn’t stop there. Europeans remain critical — rightly so — and won’t allow themselves to be devoured by the European Union Commission. The German parliament should and must represent the interests of European citizens regarding this agreement and should not allow the commission to usurp these rights.

Why Is Transparency a Concern?

Presently, the TTIP is keeping pace with ACTA and, unless something changes, will fail just as ACTA did. Only more transparency in negotiations and consideration for the cultural values of others, will help reduce mistrust and eliminate rumors of “chlorine chickens” and genetically altered corn. But the German political parties CDU, CSU and SPD all appear to be unwilling to bring pressure to bear on the European Union Commission. If all parties are expressly opposed to a lowering of consumer and worker protection standards and no one wants to see a multibillion-dollar investment protection clause included, why the opposition to transparency? One can only advise those who want to see a free trade agreement enacted to immediately begin pressuring both Brussels and Washington for more daylight to be brought into the negotiations.

But one aspect is getting short shrift in the discussion: Even if the requested transparency is forthcoming and the fears of hormone-drenched meat never materialize, when crunch time arrives, it’s still all about protecting our private data! The Free Democratic Party insists a data privacy agreement must be a prerequisite to any free trade agreement, because the free trade agreement is the last leverage Europe will have for perhaps another 10 years to wring a reasonable data privacy deal from the United States for our citizens, our businesses and our research facilities.

But what real chance is there of getting a data privacy agreement parallel with a free trade agreement? Chancellor Merkel visited Washington. Her personal cell phone was tapped, along with those of millions of other Germans and Europeans. Everyone would have understood had she found the right words to respond to that eavesdropping. Everyone had actually expected her to respond appropriately. But the chancellor only mentioned the NSA in passing reference; whether she did so out of resignation or disinterest makes no difference. The signal was still the same: America can do whatever it chooses to do.

The NSA Affair Is Toxic

What has happened since the NSA spying scandal? Nothing of importance. The NSA has not been sent to its room. Obama still argues that spying is necessary to ensure the security of the American people. The U.S. cannot trust the European Union. Looking at it the other way: Why should the EU trust the United States? Yes, the NSA scandal is a poison that endangers the trans-Atlantic alliance. But it is up to those who began the polluting to demonstrate good will and follow up their vague declarations with deeds.

However, the German government doesn’t appear to take effective protection of our data seriously. The same goes for getting an explanation for the NSA scandal. It cannot be explained any other way when the examination of important files and information is denied to investigators merely because of American intransigence. German officials would open themselves to legal sanctions if they interrogated Snowden. Does that also hold true for the German members of the European Parliament who already did so some time ago and for those members of the German parliament who took part in questioning Snowden in the most recent meeting of the EU Legal Affairs Council in Strasbourg?

A majority of the EU parliament has already agreed to exclude agreements dealing with the transfer of European data to the United States. There is a considerable amount that falls into that category: Bank data, airline passenger manifests and the International Safe Harbor privacy principles, for example. It is unclear what happens with data from European citizens after it is provided to the United States. In its decision on data storage and retention, the European Court declared that telecommunications data explicitly may not be kept on European soil. The court recognizes the danger that such data might be misused or co-opted. To date, however, neither the commission nor the member states have been able to rescind that agreement.

In summary, nothing has happened since Snowden’s revelations. Instead, the European Union and the German government steadfastly work toward a free trade agreement and tell the German people that they should trust the Americans who, for their part, have no trust in the Germans. Even if a U.S.-EU free trade agreement doesn’t result in chlorine-drenched chickens and genetically altered corn, we shouldn’t lightly toss away the last chance we have to get a data privacy agreement that protects both our private sphere and our business/research sovereignty. Without effective and iron-clad data privacy along with changes in U.S. law, there can be no free trade agreement between the U.S. and the EU.

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