UK and Half of EU Member States Back Free Data Flows

Liberalization of the way user data can be used by businesses is "vital" for EU businesses, member states say.

data privacy, security

By Matthew Broersma

The United Kingdom and 13 other European Union (EU) countries have reportedly called for more flexible regulations on data transfers in order to help boost digital businesses.

The open letter from ministers in countries including Ireland, Poland and Sweden counters moves by some EU member states, including Germany and France, to place restrictions on how data is stored and transferred.

This follows the revelations of mass data collection programs by U.S. spy agencies.

Such concerns last year forced the EU and the United States to renegotiate a data transfer agreement that had been in place since 1999.

Details of the new agreement, called EU-US Privacy Shield, were published in February and are currently under review by EU data protection authorities, some of which have expressed doubts about its adequacy.

But in Monday's open letter, ministers from Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom urged the European Commission (EC) and the Netherlands, which currently holds the EU presidency, to reduce regulation and create an environment in which European businesses can more easily build data-driven businesses, according to Reuters.

"It is vital for European competitiveness to take a positive approach to new advancements in digital technologies and business models," the signatories are quoted as saying. "Europe can benefit significantly from new data-driven technologies if the right future-proof regulatory framework is established."

They also reportedly called for regulators to steer away from one-size-fits-all rules that would apply to all online companies and to simplify telecoms guidelines in order to spur investment in high-speed broadband.

Commission vice-president Andrus Ansip, who is overseeing the Digital Single Market strategy the Commission introduced last year, has in the past indicated he's in favor of free data flows across the EU.

In a speech before the European Parliament in April, he called strategies to favor localization of data within individual member states, such as have been put forward by Germany and France, a "dead end."

The EC is expected to present a data deregulation proposal later this year as part of the Digital Single Market plan.

German chancellor Angela Merkel said in 2013 the country planned to back "strong rules" on data protection following claims that Microsoft, Google, Facebook and others were handing troves of information to the U.S.' National Security Agency (NSA) as part of its PRISM program.

Alongside its measures to overhaul the regulatory environment for EU IT businesses, the Commission has also been investigating the way U.S. high-tech giants such as Google operate in the bloc.

It has forced Google to respect "right to be forgotten" regulations on its EU search services, while leveling formal charges against the company for abuse of its search dominance. The Commission also is investigating Google over alleged abuses of its dominance in smartphone software with its Android platform.