Is a European privacy ombudsman the answer to US surveillance complaints?

The importance and awareness of online privacy issues have been brought into sharp focus in the 21st century. It's not entirely down to Edward Snowden, but the revelations from the former NSA contractor are a constant reference point for those concerned with privacy, security and freedom of speech.

One of the greatest problems facing anyone trying to tackle the problem of privacy on the web is dealing with the ideologies of different countries, and how this affects data sharing. A level of surveillance that is deemed acceptable in the US, for instance, may be considered completely objectionable in another. The latest suggestion to help overcome this seemingly insurmountable problem is to set up a privacy ombudsman that would be able to handle European complaints and queries about US surveillance.

There have been ongoing talks since the European Court of Justice ruled that the Safe Habour data sharing arrangement was invalid. According to a new report from Reuters, the latest proposal to be floated by the US is the creation of a privacy ombudsman. The independent overseeing body would be charged with not only checking that data transfers between countries were carried out correctly, but also will be handing complaints from Europe.

Talks are still at an early stage at the moment, but Europe will need reassuring about the independence, accountability and transparency of the ombudsman before any deal could be struck. Spokesman for the EU Commission, Christian Wigand, is quoted as saying: "Intense negotiations have been ongoing... we need further clarification on effective oversight and transparency."

Until an agreeable deal for data sharing is found, there is a chance that restrictions could be placed on the movement of data across the Atlantic.

On 2 February, a meeting is planned between data protection authorities to decide how data transfers to the US should be handled. It is hoped that talks about a possible ombudsman will be concluded before this date.

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