The TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) has got bogged down; it is curiously hung up on issues surrounding consumer protection and animal welfare rules, as well as the more serious issue of France being staunchly opposed to what PM Hollande refers to as “unregulated free trade.”
Hollande, beset by dismal popularity ratings, has obviously seized upon the public’s wariness of any pact introduced and championed by America. Be that as it may, lost in the jousting is an issue of great import to many citizens on both sides of the Atlantic – data protection and its corollary, personal privacy. Across the Channel, the TTIP is being heartily embraced by UK PM David Cameron, who has vowed to put ’’rocket boosters” on ratification. Regarding privacy, this is not a surprise, as GCHQ has been riding roughshod on it (with the Tory government’s acquiescence) for quite some time.
Some in the EU, notably France, have expressed dismay at elements of the proposed pact which could negatively affect those areas of concern, and as a result, progress toward an agreement could be halted by French persistence.
Remember, all 28 members of the EU must ratify the treaty, so even one member voting against it will doom it to the scrap-heap even after 13 rounds of negotiation, and three years of wrangling. As it stands now, data protection and privacy are not substantively addressed in the TTIP. Pro-privacy forces are marshaling efforts to remedy this shortcoming, as the European Digital Rights (EDRi) advocacy group explains,
“The committee that takes the lead as regards fundamental rights and freedoms is the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs (LIBE). While everyone has one eye on the reform of data protection and one eye on TTIP developments, LIBE adopted a strong Opinion in March 2015 for the European Commission to respect EU fundamental rights and freedoms, especially as regards data protection and privacy.”
Since the European Commission “has conceded that it cannot guarantee EU citizens’ fundamental right to privacy when their data is transferred to the US”, as reported in The Irish Times, it is incumbent that the TTIP confront the absence of significant data protection language in the treaty. The fact that it is being acknowledged in other forums, namely on the Safe Harbor and the Data Protection Umbrella Agreement, doesn’t warrant its omission from the TTIP.
The LIBE is pushing for a binding and expansive human rights clause as well as the exclusion of data protection and privacy Also for consideration is “the respect of democracy and the rule of law, the fight against mass surveillance and the need for further transparency and accountability.”
In defeating ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) a couple of years ago because it was threatening to fundamental privacy rights, and while entertaining the adoption of the TTIP, the European Parliament has made clear it will not back a TTIP that threatens individual privacy.
In a report issued in February 2014, the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs insists that it would only consent to the final TTIP agreement provided the agreement fully respects the fundamental rights recognized by the EU Charter, including any provisions on the protection of the individual privacy and personal data.
While the United States has exhibited a readiness to engage in a trade-off between national security interests and the privacy of its citizens, opinion on this matter seems to be divided in Europe. According to a recent study, EU citizens generally are open to the idea that security requires giving up some level of privacy; however, a majority expressed concerns about sharing that data across international borders. Hence, the aggressive push-back against data giants like Google in myriad tangles with EU regulators.
Supporters of the TTIP postulate that trade agreements, which arguably could benefit tens of millions of people on both sides of the Atlantic to the tune of billions of dollars, should not be held hostage by what they perceive as the narrow issues of personal privacy. We beg to differ, because the diluting of privacy is but the first volley in the greater war to preserve civil liberties, and thus, freedom from tyranny that beset Europe a mere few decades ago.