Merkel challenges US firms on data use

German chancellor urges US companies based in Ireland to say with whom they share data

German chancellor Angela Merkel: “We have great data protection laws in Germany but if Facebook is based in Ireland, then Irish law applies. And so we need a unified European [data protection] regulation.” Photograph: Reuters/Johannes Eisele/Pool

German chancellor Angela Merkel: “We have great data protection laws in Germany but if Facebook is based in Ireland, then Irish law applies. And so we need a unified European [data protection] regulation.” Photograph: Reuters/Johannes Eisele/Pool

 


German chancellor Angela Merkel has called for US internet companies based in Ireland, including Google and Facebook, to explain with whom they share the data of European users.

The German leader said last night the controversy over US spying allegations had underlined the need for agreement in ongoing talks on European data protection guidelines – and for a similar agreement at international level.

“We want these companies to tell us in Europe to whom they give our data,” she said on German public television last night.

“We have great data protection laws in Germany but if Facebook is based in Ireland, then Irish law applies. And so we need a unified European [data protection] regulation.”


Human rights
At international level, she said, Berlin would push for a protocol on data protection to be added to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that protects the private sphere of individuals.

Data protection bodies in other EU member states have criticised the Irish Data Protection Commissioner for being understaffed and accused it of being beholden to US multinationals. Max Schrems, Vienna-based organiser of the Europe-v-Facebook group, welcomed Dr Merkel’s remarks as an overdue political challenge to how Ireland meets its EU data protection obligations.


‘Pressure from Europe’
“I’ve always had the feeling that the Irish Data Protection Commissioner took the path of least resistance with these US companies,” said Mr Schrems, who has several complaints before the commissioner. “The more pressure from Europe the better.”

Peer Steinbrück, the chancellor’s Social Democrat challenger in September’s general election, has accused Dr Merkel of violating her oath of office by failing to protect Germans’ interests in the Edward Snowden affair.

Mr Steinbrück has called for a parliamentary inquiry into what Germany’s intelligence service (BND) knew of the allegations by Mr Snowden.

“The BND could have known and should have known that basic rights are being violated in Germany, and the intelligence service is co-ordinated by the chancellery,” he said.

He said claims by Mr Snowden that the NSA stored 500 million items of German communications data each month put the German leader in breach of her oath of office to protect from harm the rights of all Germans.