White House Considers Constraints on Spying Ahead of EU Meeting

U.S. must set data privacy safeguards, EU Justice Commissioner says.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama speak at a press conference on June 19, 2013 in Berlin, Germany.
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The Obama administration appears willing to add constraints on intelligence gathering ahead of a meeting with members of the European Parliament, who will meet at the White House on Wednesday, as both sides try to balance privacy with effective counter-terrorism efforts.

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White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said during a press briefing on Monday that the administration is working to allay concerns expressed by U.S. allies about surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency, and is considering "additional constraints" on intelligence gathering.

"The president clearly feels strongly about making sure we are not just collecting information because we can, but because we should," Carney said

National Security Advisor Susan Rice also sent a tweet on Monday stating that the U.S. must balance security needs while ensuring the privacy rights of its allies. 

We must seek proper balance between security concerns of our citizens and allies and the privacy concerns that all people share.

— Susan Rice (@AmbassadorRice) October 28, 2013

Officials from the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs will meet Monday through Wednesday in Washington with officials, including members of Congress, to discuss the NSA's Internet spying program, known as PRISM. The committee will meet on Wednesday at the White House with Karen Donfried, the senior director for European affairs for the National Security Council.

The U.S. is also planning to take a delegation to the European Union headquarters in Brussels to talk more about how surveillance efforts can balance privacy and security, said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., following a meeting with the visiting members of the European Parliament on Monday.

"We are going to have to have a policy discussion that is bigger than any intelligence agency in either Europe or the United States. I think we all agree on that," Rogers said.

Revelations about the vast surveillance the NSA conducted on European citizens, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have "shaken and damaged" relations with the U.S., says EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding.

"Europe expects to see action from the U.S. to rebuild trust," "Reding says. "In my view trust can best be restored by working hand in hand towards strong data protection standards on both sides of the Atlantic."

[ALSO: European Officials Want to Limit NSA Spying]

This damage includes a vote by the European Parliament on Oct. 23 to suspend a financial data sharing plan with the U.S., known as the SWIFT program, which was created to coordinate on international counterterrorism and law enforcement. The data sharing agreement will be among the topics of discussions between EU and U.S. officials this week along with "the reform of EU data protection laws," according to the European Parliament.

Negotiations on a data protection agreement for transatlantic law enforcement have lasted for two years, and ironing out two unresolved issues would be a good step toward rebuilding trust, Reding says.

"First, a meaningful agreement has to ensure the full equal treatment of EU and U.S. citizens. And second, it has to give European citizens concrete and enforceable rights like judicial redress possibilities," Reding says.

The U.S. should also consider stronger data protection rules to mirror those being considered in Europe, Reding says. Concerns about mass surveillance hastened the passage of draft data privacy protections in the EU on Oct. 23, which would add stronger safeguards to prevent data transfers to non-EU countries by communications companies.

"I believe that the data protection reform and the negotiation with the U.S. for a data protection agreement in the law enforcement sector strike the right balance," Reding says. "Citizens will have the confidence that their privacy rights are protected while law enforcement authorities can swiftly get the data they need to fight crime and terrorism."