For over a year now, the United States and the European Union have been negotiating an arrangement so that US law enforcement and national security organizations can have easier access to data in Europe and about Europeans. The New York Times is reporting that that the two parties are closer to an arrangement that would permit trolling through personal information for suspicious activities, such as the review of SWIFT data that the American government undertook as the data was resident in the United States. One of the remaining issues is whether European citizens will have an ability to sue the Americans for misuse of their data.
The fact that Europe and the Bush administration are engaged in this process is a good thing. The alternatives are to shut off the tap entirely, which may not be a good idea, or to allow American authorities to freely troll through European data as easily as information about Americans, which would be worse. In Canada, Maher Arar learned the hard way about what can happen if an unstructured, unregulated information sharing "system" results in the transfer of unreliable information to the Bush administration.
Recently, the Canadian Bar Association presented its recommendations to Parliament, demanding that all information sharing arrangements be in writing with safeguards and oversight to make sure that information is accurate and does not unreasonably invade personal privacy.
The NYTimes article is here: U.S. and Europe Near Accord on Privacy - NYTimes.com.
Thanks to Rob Hyndman for the link.