EU countries call for the removal of barriers to data flows

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An illustration picture shows a projection of binary code on a man holding a laptop computer, in an office in Warsaw June 24, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
An illustration picture shows a projection of binary code on a man holding a laptop computer, in an office in Warsaw June 24, 2013.

Reuters/Kacper Pempel

Half of the European Union’s member states on Monday called for the removal of barriers to the free flow of data both within and outside the 28-nation bloc to ensure the continent can benefit from new data-driven technologies.

In a letter to the European Commission and the Netherlands – which holds the rotating EU presidency – ministers from countries including Poland, Britain, Sweden and Finland urged Brussels to make sure regulation is not a barrier to the development of data-driven technologies and to avoid one-size-fits-all rules for online platforms such as Amazon and Facebook.

“It is vital for European competitiveness to take a positive approach to new advancements in digital technologies and business models,” wrote the ministers from Belgium, Britain, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia and Sweden.

“Europe can benefit significantly from new data-driven technologies if the right future-proof regulatory framework is established.”

The Commission last year unveiled its Digital Single Market strategy, a wide-ranging plan to knock down barriers in the online world to give Europe a better chance of competing with mainly U.S. tech giants.

On Wednesday, it will present the results of its inquiry into online platforms and where it thinks action may be needed.

While Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip has ruled out a single regulation covering all online companies, it is likely to tackle perceived problems in areas such as copyright and telecoms as well as probe further into the terms of use of services such as Google’s Android and Apple Inc’s IoS mobile operating system.

The strategy has faced accusations of protectionism – which the Commission says are unfounded – and data flows to the United States have endured a particularly tough ride since revelations of mass U.S. government snooping programs.

Ansip – who is overseeing the strategy – has spoken out against limits to cross-border data flows.

“It’s extremely important to allow free data flows across the EU and we know that in some member states there are ideas to localize data inside of those beautiful countries. They are very popular but it’s a dead end,” he said in the European Parliament in April.

The EU is expected to present a proposal enabling the free flow of data across the bloc later this year to counter data localization initiatives in countries such as Germany and France.

The letter also called for EU telecoms rules to be simplified so as to foster investments in high-speed broadband, an area where the EU has been lagging behind the United States, Japan and South Korea.

(Reporting by Julia Fioretti. Editing by Jane Merriman)