Sparked by the NSA documents released by Edward Snowden earlier this year, Europe’s most recent confrontation with US technology companies & data privacy has reached its peak in the most recent weeks. Allegations quickly turned to accusations when Angela Merkel pointed fingers at the United States’ National Security Agency, claiming that her phone had been tapped.
For US technology companies like Google, Facebook & Amazon, this couldn’t come at a worse time. The European Commission has data privacy on the top of its agenda, its eyes squarely on the United States, and, after it was announced that the US had been spying on Merkel and many other foreign nationals, it seemed almost certain that things would swing against Google et al.
Britain sided squarely with the United States – and thus, sought as little regulation as possible on EU data – this does not come as a surprise. As the Financial Times pointed out, Google’s own Eric Schmidt sits on David Cameron’s advisory board.
France, too, was confronted with the hard truths around the NSA this month, when it was revealed that millions of French mobile phones were being tracked and documented by the US agency. It came as no surprise that France, which had been relatively silent on the Snowden documents up until now (likely because France runs its own, less notable, spying program – the DCRI), came out strongly in favor of tighter regulation around data leaving the European Commission. France has long been looking for ways to punish the US tech giants which it sees as profiting of its citizens without paying what it sees as proper taxes on said revenue.
In the end, It was Germany that ended up being the wild card in the situation. As reported in the Financial Times, despite the discovery that the US had been tapping her phone, Merkel expressed a desire to build a closer relationship with the United States & the other members of the “Five Eyes.” While Merkel and her Germany constituents were expected to sway towards stricter data privacy – a political atmosphere which has characterized Germany’s digital decisions in the previous years – ultimately, it seems that Merkel is taking the “keep your friends close..” approach, which no doubt will strain relations between France & Germany.
Ultimately, the European Commission’s decision around data privacy ended up being a lot more lenient, due to pressure from David Cameron and tacit complicity by Angela Merkel, meaning that real change won’t take effect before 2015, around which data on European citizens can be exported outside the Europe Commission.
While previously Europe was painted by a united Germany & France and a separatist Britain, this new image of a united Britain & Germany may push France closer and closer into a category into which Spain, Greece & Portugal have fallen – that of the economically challenged.