Exclusive: Privacy campaigners may sue EC over provision of citizens' personal data to the FBI

News by Richard Thurston

A leading civil rights organisation is threatening the European Commission with legal action as Brussels nears an agreement with the US over plans to release details of individuals' credit card histories and internet browsing habits to the FBI

Privacy campaigners are threatening to sue the European Commission over its plans to release citizens' data to the FBI.

The Commission is understood to be close to finalising an agreement with the US that would allow the FBI to see the credit card histories and internet browsing habits of European citizens. The agreement would mark a substantial lowering of the barriers to the provision of data from Brussels to Washington.

News of the state of the talks has angered privacy organisations. One leading campaigning organisation, Privacy International, said today it would consider taking legal action against the Commission.

"It is very much on the cards for Privacy International, or one of the other civil rights organisations, to take legal action against Brussels," said Simon Davies, director of Privacy International. "It would depend very much on how the framework has been established. We will have to see the text, consult the legal experts and see where we stand."

"One of the key problems is the secrecy which has surrounded the terms," said Davies, speaking to SCMagazine. "We have no knowledge about where our information will flow once it reaches the US. In all respects, this is a bad deal for Europeans. It plays into the hands of the US in the worst possible way."

Davies added that US laws made it impossible to exchange data fairly between Europe and the US.

The US is keen to gain access to European citizens' data to help it tackle the threat of terrorism. Talks to gain access to citizens' data were ramped up after the New York attacks in September 2001.

Progress on the agreement is "advanced" and the level of safeguards on the seeking of further information is another area of concern, The Guardian reported yesterday.

The European Commission could offer no comment on the proposed legislation at the time of writing.

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