Attorney General Lynch chides European decisions to restrict data sharing

LONDON (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch warned on Wednesday that a planned European Union data protection law could undermine efforts to thwart terrorist attacks by restricting transatlantic information sharing.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks at a 'Countering Terrorism: A Global Perspective' event at Chatham House in London, Britain December 9, 2015. REUTERS/Toby Melville

The United States and European Union countries are discussing ways to improve the speed and scope of sharing data in the wake of deadly militant attacks on Paris, California and a Russian passenger plane.

“No nation can fight terrorism alone,” Lynch said in a speech at London’s Chatham House think tank.

“Terrorists, like other criminals, count on the difficulties that law enforcement agencies have in sharing information across borders, difficulties that are magnified now that electronic information may be stored in many different countries.”

Lynch singled out a planned EU-wide data protection law for particular criticism.

“It is certainly highly concerning to us that data privacy legislation advancing in the European Parliament might further restrict transatlantic information sharing,” she said.

She said such a step “ignores the critical need for that information sharing to fight terrorism and transnational crime, but also overlooks the important steps forward that the Obama administration and Congress have taken to protect privacy.”

Members of the European Parliament and national governments are in final negotiations to find an agreement on a new EU-wide data protection law that would set stricter conditions on how companies use Europeans’ data and transfer it outside the 28-member bloc.

Lynch also criticized a decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) to strike down the so called Safe Harbor deal that allowed thousands of companies to transfer personal data easily from Europe to the United States.

“It was particularly disappointing that the European Court of Justice - in a case based on inaccurate and outdated media reports - recently struck down the Safe Harbor Agreement,” Lynch said.

Lynch said the decision overlooked the efforts of Obama’s administration to ensure the protection of civil liberties and privacy.

The United States has crafted information sharing agreements with 45 partners to identify and track suspected terrorists, a partnership that has given Interpol 4,000 profiles of foreign fighters, Lynch said.

“No nation can exist in a bubble of isolation; no country can imagine themselves immune from world events; and the security of each state increasingly depends on the security of all states,” she said, before quoting English poet John Donne.

“The words of four centuries past ring ever true today, ‘no man is an island entire of itself.’”

Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Andrew Heavens