EU justice chief Vera Jourova will push for a new data access agreement with the United States when she meets with her American counterpart next week, amid growing transatlantic tensions over issues including the Iran nuclear agreement and trade.
Jourova said in an interview on Friday (18 May) that she will use “all legal ways of lobbying” to convince US Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the US and EU should create an arrangement for law enforcement authorities to quickly demand user data from technology firms.
New legal measures in both the US and the EU give authorities more power to obtain data that is stored in another country if they need it to investigate crimes. But Jourova wants an additional deal to speed up those data requests specifically between the EU and the US.
“We have to insist on being the partner as the European Union for the United States for the reciprocal exchange of data,” she said.
The EU Justice Commissioner has been trying to negotiate such an arrangement with the US since last year. But her efforts were sidelined when President Trump approved new legislation known as the CLOUD Act in March that allows only for bilateral deals with individual countries, instead of a broader agreement with the EU.
The UK is already negotiating its own agreement with the US. Jourova wants to prevent other EU countries from doing the same.
“For the rest of Europe we want a unified, harmonised approach,” she said.
Jourova and Sessions will meet next week (22-23 May) in Sofia, Bulgaria at a meeting of justice and home affairs ministers from the EU and US.
She said the recent spats between the Trump administration and European leaders did not help her campaign to negotiate a data sharing agreement.
“There is a mood now around this. The whole context is very relevant for this whole matter because for the reciprocal exchange of data related to criminal activities, there must be quite a lot of mutual trust.”
“So if the mood would be worsening in the future, it would also weaken the position for having an agreement,” Jourova said.
She said she is confident that the US administration will agree to a deal with the EU despite restrictions in the CLOUD Act.
“We approach the US as a strategic partner and a friend who is understanding things the same way regarding basic values and principles,” the justice chief added.
Last month, Jourova proposed new EU legislation that will allow law enforcement authorities to demand user data within ten days, or six hours in emergencies, from technology firms that operate services in the bloc—regardless of where they are headquartered or store data.
The so-called e-evidence legislation will also give authorities the ability to request data from companies outside the EU. The fast-track system would bypass current data exchange treaties between justice ministries, which authorities have complained can take too long.
In a letter to Sessions last month, Jourova wrote that the new EU bill creates “a basis for a coordinated and coherent approach both within the EU and by the EU at international level, with due regard to EU rules, including on non-discrimination between EU member states and their nationals”.
Commission officials close to the e-evidence file see the US CLOUD Act as a threat to a broader arrangement with the EU because it only allows for deals with individual countries. Jourova said in the interview that she was not aware of any EU countries aside from the UK that want to negotiate individual agreements with the US. She insisted that justice ministers support her proposal for common EU legislation.
The letter, which EURACTIV has obtained, is dated 17 April, the day Jourova proposed the legislation.
Negotiations on the draft EU legislation have not yet started.