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By | Kieren McCarthy 28th October 2015 20:51

Safe Harbor 2.0: Judges to keep NSA spying in check – EU justice boss

Details of info-sharing pact replacement emerge

The NSA's blanket surveillance of Europeans will be subject to judicial review, according to EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourová.

At a committee meeting of the European Parliament this week, Jourová provided details of the replacement to the struck-down safe harbor framework, which until this month allowed people's personal information to flow across the Atlantic and into American servers.

She told the hearing the new agreement would move away from the previous self-regulatory approach to one that allows for "pro-active" enforcement and sanctions.

There will be an annual review of the new framework, including any access to personal information granted to the FBI and other US agencies on national security grounds.

And there will be "sufficient limitations and safeguards" to prevent mass surveillance, with judicial control over the process.

Her wishful thinking is timed perfectly for her visit to Washington DC next month for negotiations with the US government.

Jourová noted that inserting judges into the surveillance of Europeans' data was the "biggest challenge" in ongoing negotiations between the EC and US government officials. She noted, however, that there was broad agreement on changes and that she would be trying to finalize details in Washington next month.

On judicial oversight, Jourová noted that a law bill – approved by the US House of Representatives and soon to be introduced to the Senate – would extend judicial protection currently enjoyed by US citizens in the Privacy Act to EU citizens. Once approved, that bill would "be another important step in guaranteeing protection for data transfers," she argued.

We'll spy on you a little bit less

Jourová then went into some depth over the changes that the US government has made to its surveillance programs.

"Following the initial surveillance revelations two years ago, which gave rise to the facts of the court case, the US has undergone a period of internal review as regards its national intelligence activities," she told the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). "This has led to reform steps such as the USA Freedom Act, but also the President's instructions to the whole intelligence community on surveillance and the need to take account of privacy rights of non-Americans."

She continued: "We have already seen some progress compared to the past in the direction of more targeted and tailored surveillance. Moreover, as for the use of data that have been collected, certain protections formerly reserved only to US persons have been extended to EU citizens, for instance as regards further dissemination or the period of retention."

The European Commission is still assessing the safeguards and getting "further clarifications," but in general sees the changes as "encouraging."

The commission expects to complete negotiations before the "deadline" of the end of January 2016 set by the Article 29 Working Party. But before that it will publish an "explanatory communication" providing "guidance" on international data transfers following the decision by the European Court of Justice earlier this month in favor of Max Schrems.

Under the new framework, Europe's national data protection authorities will have "a more active and visible role in the system than previously," Jourová said.

You can read the full speech online or watch a video of the committee session. ®

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