EU justice chief vows new data protection laws

VILNIUS - EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said on Friday she is determined to deliver new European data protection laws in the wake of revelations about covert US surveillance.

"Prism has woken Europeans up to the need to have robust, strict rules," Reding said, going into informal talks with European Union justice ministers in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Revelations about Prism and other programmes by the US National Security Agency to capture and store personal information gleaned from emails, phone calls and web searches have sparked outrage, especially after tech giants such as Google, Skype or Facebook were implicated.

Reding said a joint declaration issued on Friday by France and Germany at the Lithuania talks marked a turning point in getting long-delayed legislative proposals moving again.

These proposals were on the verge of collapse but have been given a new lease of life after media reports about the US and also British role in gathering reams of data from commonly used social networks.

As a result, Reding said that British-led opposition within the EU, based on concerns over increased regulation and costs, was now irrelevant.

French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira and her German counterpart Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger signed a pledge to deliver a "high level of data protection." This, they said in their statement, would leave overseas public access to personal information "very strictly framed and tightly controlled." "People must know which personal data are collected by the telecommunications companies, to what extent these data are transferred to foreign public authorities and for what purposes," they said.

This common position between Berlin and Paris is an "extremely useful" development, Reding said.

Therefore, "we can allow ourselves to forget Great Britain's opposition on condition that the German engine unites a large majority, which will be the case," she added.

Reding said some ministers wanted quick implementation but that a flood of anticipated amendments would mean next year would be more realistic for adoption of the new measures.