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EU lawmakers back plan to shield data

US technology companies such as Google could be required to seek EU clearance before complying with US spy warrants.

New York Times/file 2011

US technology companies such as Google could be required to seek EU clearance before complying with US spy warrants.

BRUSSELS — A panel of European Union lawmakers on Monday night backed a measure that could require such US companies as Google and Yahoo to seek clearance from European officials before complying with US warrants seeking private data.

The vote, by an influential committee at the European Parliament, is part of efforts in Europe to shield citizens from online surveillance following revelations about a far-reaching spying program by the US National Security Agency.

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The panel, meeting in Strasbourg, France, also endorsed ways of tightening other privacy rules, including fines that could run to billions of dollars on the biggest technology companies if they fail to follow rules, including limiting the sharing of personal data.

The measure, if accepted by the European Union, is part of data privacy legislation that has been under consideration for two years. It is expected to face more fierce lobbying from US officials and technology companies. The legislation would still require the approval of governments and the full European Parliament.

“This evening’s vote is a breakthrough for data protection in Europe and would overhaul EU rules, ensuring they are up to the task of the challenges in the digital age,” said Jan Philipp Albrecht, a German member of the panel, the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.

Albrecht is steering the legislation through the Parliament, and he added that the committee had “voted to make clear that it is exclusively EU law that applies to EU citizens’ private data online regardless of where the business processing their data has its seat.”

Timothy Kirkhope, a British member of the committee, said before the vote, “A more principles-based and less prescriptive regulation would have been a better outcome.”

After the vote, groups representing the technology industry pressed European leaders to oppose some of the measures.

John Higgins, the director general of DigitalEurope, which represents companies including Apple, Microsoft, and IBM, criticized the measure and urged member states to look critically at it.

“Rushing through a half-baked law risks throwing away a vital and much-needed opportunity to stimulate economic growth,” he said.

European leaders are to meet in Brussels on Thursday and will mainly focus their discussions on using technologies to drive economic growth and create jobs.

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