Europe is concerned that some U.S. tech companies may not be taking the proper steps needed to protect the personal information of its citizens, a Dutch politician said on Wednesday.
But that does not mean Europe and the United States are headed for a “digital war” over the ownership of consumer data, Raymond Knops, minister of the interior and kingdom relations in the Netherlands, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”
Knops, the state secretary, took over the ministerial role from Kajsa Ollongren in November.
“What you can see is that Europe is self-confident about how we deal with our data and the data of our citizens,” Knops said. Last year, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation went into law, giving individuals sweeping new powers in controlling their data, including the right to demand companies tell them how that information is used.
“What we want is to protect this data of civilians, not be used too easily by private companies. Especially, when there was no consent from these people to deal with this data,” Knops added.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week urged Europe to take control of its data from U.S. tech giants. She said the European Union should claim “digital sovereignty” by building its own technology products to manage data and reduce dependency on the likes of Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, the Financial Times reported.
Lawmakers in Europe are likely to keep big American tech firms under close scrutiny, according to experts.
When asked about the possibility of digital protectionism, Knops pointed out that Europe, as a continent, is “very much depending on international trade.”
“The last thing we would do is to isolate ourselves,” he said, re-emphasizing the focus lawmakers there have on protecting user data. “What we’ve seen in the last decade is that a lot of companies were not very careful with dealing with data of civilians.”
Knops also explained that governments need to speed up their pace in keeping up with new technologies that are being developed in order to better regulate them. “Not to stop developments, but just to put it in the right direction.” He was addressing the trend of private companies, like Facebook, trying to launch new digital currencies and payments systems.
He explained that it’s not just the European Union that’s working to develop a set of principles and guidelines for companies and governments that deal with new tech like artificial intelligence — other countries are also exploring such options, Knops said.
In the event that U.S. tech firms fail to adhere to established principles and guidelines, Knops said there could be a potential consequence: “It’s not the intention but when you set a set of principles, and guidelines about transparency and respecting privacy, and companies don’t comply with that, the ultimate consequence could be that you say, ‘You’re not welcomed.'”