(Reuters) - Stung by revelations about the scale of U.S. electronic spying, Europe has been itching to show it can protect its citizens from snooping - but planned new privacy legislation risks a head-on collision with U.S. law.
However much European Parliament lawmakers may fume at the leaks from former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, Europe has a poor record in battles with U.S. justice and intelligence services over its citizens' data.
What is more, the Internet is dominated by the likes of Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Yahoo! - U.S. companies that will feel more bound by U.S. laws compelling them to give information to their intelligence services.
"It is certainly not up to Europe alone to determine what data can be accessed in the United States," said privacy lawyer Eduardo Ustaran of Field Fisher Waterhouse in London.
For U.S. firms, any new laws drawn up in Brussels are unlikely to take precedence. Lawyers say potential U.S. punishments are more than enough to dissuade companies from complying with European rules.
"What would you prefer: to be slapped by U.S. law or the prospect of a European fine that may never be enforced?" said Mark Watts, an lawyer specializing in IT at Bristows in London.
Documents leaked by Snowden have shown that the U.S. National Security Agency monitors vast quantities of email and telephone data of both Americans and foreigners. Attempting to limit the damage, President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that U.S. intelligence-gathering was focused on specific concerns like counter-terrorism, cyber-security and weapons of mass destruction.
But U.S. allies are concerned, and the European Parliament, where more than 750 members represent 500 million citizens across 28 countries, plans to back a tough new privacy law by the end of the year.