Audio interview: Europe’s new privacy supremo criticizes the US and commits to building EU harmonisation

ikYfyDhQHruMBy Simon Davies

Europe’s new data protection and privacy supremo has lashed out at the Obama administration, accusing the US of failing to deliver meaningful safeguards in the wake of the Snowden revelations.

In a wide-ranging audio interview with the Privacy Surgeon, Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin – president of the French privacy watchdog CNIL and also the newly elected Chair of Article 29 (the European confederation of data protection authorities) – expressed concern that President Obama had done little to alleviate concerns in Europe over US surveillance.

Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin: "Things will be different"

Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin: “Things will be different”

“At some point European citizens and the European data protection authorities want facts – not only intentions, good will or propositions – they want facts. And as far as the facts are concerned, we are not satisfied as European data protection authorities in the way data from EU citizens are collected.”

“A few days ago several of us went to Washington to meet representatives from the Congress, from the White House and also academics, and what we said to them is we’re here to tell you that what happened with the Snowden revelations needs – deserves – action on your side.”

Falque-Pierrotin also spoke about the challenges ahead for data protection in Europe, noting that she believed she would be able to help build a sense of unity among authorities in the wake of the new data protection framework.

Speaking of a new relevance for data she added: “I think the main change in privacy issues is that now everybody is realising that there is a new role for data – a new positioning of data -which means that data is really enshrined in all economic issues, social issues, political issues.” 

The regulation is going to impose on Google or to any foreign company to respect European law – without any arguing possible – and I think this is a huge step.

“Data is at the center of the digital environment and this was not the case in the past – two, three or five years ago.  I think now we have to reflect on data, having in mind the new realities of the digital environment, which means we have to integrate not only citizen protection – which is still very true and necessary – but we also have also to integrate the needs of the companies and the needs of the public authorities to use data – all the environments on data.”

Falque-Pierrotin also believes that powers and sanctions within the new data protection regulation (up to 4-5 percent of global turnover) will induce overseas companies to comply with European rules.

“First, the regulation is going to impose on Google or to any foreign company to respect European law – without any arguing possible – and I think this is a huge step. And second, the regulation is going to increase the obligation in terms of transparency and individual rights. So I think definitely for Google or for any others it’s going to be different.”

She also suggested that national investigations into Google’s activities in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom should be completed before summer. The company has already been found in breach of data protection law in France and Spain.