Protection from Prism

By | 12th June 2013

Data privacy is not necessarily a subject which quickens the pulse, unless, of course, it is your data which is under threat.

However, the subject has acquired a whole new significance in recent days following the revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden who leaked sensitive information about US surveillance programmes to the Guardian here in the UK.

There has been a concern for some time about how the different approaches to data privacy on either side of the Atlantic might be reconciled. The EU is currently in the midst of a comprehensive review of data privacy regulation which it is expected will lead to a single regime across the European Union to replace the piecemeal system currently in place as a result of each country enacting legislation of its own on the subject.

The Snowden revelations have given added urgency to this issue as a result of which the EU Commission’s Vice President Viviane Reding has written to the US Attorney General demanding answers to seven questions about Prism and US data snooping programmes.

Under the heading Europe warns US, the Guardian reports this week that the Commission wants detailed answers before the meeting of EU-US ministers of justice in Dublin this Friday.

If that was not enough, the American Civil Liberties’ Union has started an action in New York alleging that the NSA’s acqusition of millions of phone records of Verizon’s users violates the first and fourth amendments of the US constitution which guarantee a citizen’s rights to free association and speech and to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

Mr Snowden is effectively now on the run from the US authorities and is no doubt looking for an Assange type refuge in a friendly country or embassy or safe house.

How this will all work out is at present uncertain, but these developments certainly serve to underline the importance we all attach to data privacy and data protection particularly when it appears that someone else is attempting to invade our privacy. The litigation support industry is constantly alive to the problems posed by the requirement to transfer data between differing jurisdictions as a part of the collection and disclosure obligations imposed on lawyers under common law systems.

We will be looking with interest at any answers which may be forthcoming from the US Government in the hope that the answers will throw some light on this problem and that the issues may be clarified rather than further confused.