Transatlantic partners discuss common standards on data


“Data is power and power must be subjected to rules” said Frank Walter Steinmeier, the German Foreign Minister at the cyber-dialogue on 27 June in Berlin.

About a year ago, Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA has been accessing data from data monopolists such as Google and Facebook. What’s more, it turned out that the US secret service has been spying on leaders worldwide, including their allies in Europe. This caused outrage and made data protection, which was dealt with in the European institutions, the legislative issue of 2013.

Data protection reform is still discussed in the Council and Germany has played a central role, not least because of (East) German history with spy services and the fact that Angela Merkel’s cell phone was hacked. As a result, Germany has been advocating very strong measures on the protection of data, arguing for a European shielded internet at its apex. This will not happen as it will encounter a lot of resistance from important economic actors, but also because the plan is simply unfeasible. The Germans have been looking at other – more business friendly and feasible – options instead.

This is why the Germans have called in for a cyber-dialogue with important state and economic actors, most notably from the other side of the Atlantic. The German government has now opted for global standards, in order to create a global level playing field which is also business friendly. “We must come up with new additional instruments for the protection of personal rights of our citizens and we need global standards, said Thomas de Maizière, the German Interior Minister.

De Maizière met with John Podesta, US President Obama’s advisor on the issue. The cyber-dialogue is likely to be followed up by more meetings on the topic, as the Germans and Americans exchanged ideas over “further developing their respective data protection initiatives.”

Sepsis remains though. Linus Neumann, a network activist, has the opinion that the good intentions and nice words will not be followed up by action. “I am certain that a great many nice, colorful speeches will be held at the cyber dialogue and that the words ‘protection from terrorism’ will come up regularly”, Neumann said. “I ask myself what is actually new here” agreed Marc Rotenberg from the US organization Electronic Privacy Information Center at the Berlin event.

Ecommerce Europe welcomes a common approach to big data and embraces the proposal for global data standards as it facilitates the creation of a level playing field. Common standards on data should ensure trust of consumers in the e-commerce industry. Ecommerce Europe warns governments that too strict guidelines on the processing of data could form an obstacle to the e-commerce industry and economic growth. Therefore, Ecommerce Europe advocates a balanced approach, taking measures only when necessary and that facilitate consumer trust and economic growth.