By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU governments agreed on Friday to toughen up draft rules allowing law enforcement authorities to get electronic evidence directly from tech companies such as Facebook and Google stored in the cloud in another European country.
The move underlines the growing trend in Europe to rein in tech giants whether on the regulatory front or the antitrust front.
The e-evidence proposal also came in the wake of recent deadly terrorist attacks in Europe, pressure on tech companies to do more to cooperate with police investigations and people's growing tendency to store and share information on WhatsApp, Facebook, Viber, Skype, Instagram and Telegram.
The European Commission, the EU executive, came up with the draft legislation in April, which includes a 10-day deadline for companies to respond to police requests or 6 hours in emergency cases, and fines up to 2 percent of a company's global turnover for not complying with such orders.
The proposal covers telecoms services providers, online marketplaces and internet infrastructure services providers and applies to subscriber data and other data on access, transactional and content.
France, Spain, Ireland and Belgium backed the draft while Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, the Czech Republic and Greece had abstained from supporting it.
"Electronic evidence is becoming a vital element in criminal proceedings. Nowadays criminals use rapid cutting-edge communication technology which does not stop at borders," Austrian Justice Minister Josef Moser said.
Tech lobbying group CCIA, whose members include Amazon, e-Bay, Facebook and Google, criticised the stance taken by EU governments, which it said was tougher than the Commission's proposal and lacks adequate checks and balances.
"We regret that today's Council vote increases the risks of conflicts between laws for companies and poses risks to individuals' fundamental rights," Alexandre Roure, CCIA's senior public policy manager, said.
BSA | The Software Alliance, which represents the global software industry, was equally critical.
"We seriously doubt that the Council's approach will deliver upon the initial goal of an effective law enforcement procedure. We need to be able to properly protect our customers' data from abusive production orders," its director general, Thomas Boue, said.
Once the European Parliament has decided on its position, lawmakers, EU governments and the Commission will negotiate a common stance which will become legislation.
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee)