Page last updated at 13:25 GMT, Tuesday, 20 September 2011 14:25 UK

US Attorney General defends EU data sharing agreement

The US Attorney General Eric Holder has defended the sharing of personal data between the EU and US, during a hearing with the European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee.

The session on 20 September 2011 debated EU-US relations on tackling transnational crime, such as terrorism, fraud and human trafficking.

Concerns have been raised by some over privacy issues surrounding the use of EU data - such as financial data and airline passenger records - by US authorities.

This was highlighted in the rejection by MEPs of the proposed SWIFT agreement that would give US authorities access to financial transaction data.

Mr Holder told the committee that the US was committed to protecting privacy but said the EU and US "should not impose each other's system on each other", and urged the EU to respect the principle of reciprocity.

He said there was "not one single example of privacy being breached", and said critics "need to deal with what is real, not what is hypothetical".

The EU has a number of agencies, such as Europol and Eurojust engaged in tackling cross-border crime, but the Commission is currently looking at how these organisations can work more effectively with US agencies such as the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.

A number of MEPs criticised the use of data sharing agreements, with Spanish socialist Carmen Romero López saying there were questions to be answered over how long data was kept by the US and who had access to it.

These concerns were echoed by German social democrat Wolfgang Kreissl-Dörfler who queried whether the Pakistani or Israeli security services could have access to the data, a claim that was rejected by the US Attorney General.

A compromise has had to be reached over the use of passenger name records (PNR) - the US said it was a way of tackling terrorism, but MEPs had said it was a breach of EU privacy rules.

The EU and the US are currently working to create a so-called umbrella agreement on data sharing, to replace all existing agreements.

Mr Holder refused to give a detailed statement on the current state of play of the negotiations, but said "the EU and the US are much closer than some might have suggested".

He is a former legal adviser to Barack Obama during his presidential campaign and has been Attorney General since 2009.

The Attorney General is the head of the US Department of Justice and is the chief law enforcement officer of the US government.


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