Wednesday

26th Jun 2019

Focus

US firms face possible sanctions over Safe Harbour

  • Washington: the EU Court's decision on Safe Harbour is retroactive (Photo: prameya)

US firms that relied solely on a now defunct data-sharing pact with the EU could end up facing sanctions from national data protection authorities.

Known as Safe Harbour, the 15-year-old pact was declared invalid on Tuesday (6 October) by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

An EU official on Wednesday (7 October) said the decision is retroactive.

This means that all transfers of data from the EU to the US under the regime were illegal since 2000.

“When the Court declares an act of the union institution such as the Safe Harbour invalid and doesn’t say anything else, it means indeed the decision is gone as if it had never existed. Which means also of course that transfers, which don’t have any other legal basis, should not have been made”, the official told reporters.

A second EU official said a company will have to prove, at the moment of the transfer, that it had a number of other guarantees “that showed compliance with the European data protection rules”.

A third EU official said if the company did not show other forms of compliance and if harm had come to the individual as a result, it could face penalties.

The legal complexity is vast, due in part, to a clause in the scheme that had also allowed US laws to overrule Safe Harbour.

“This is a big problem for European rights if you can just overrule the agreement”, said Franziska Boehm, an assistant professor at the German-based Institute for Information, telecommunication and media law.

Boehm, who drafted a European Parliament report on Safe Harbour and had a submitted a review of it to the European Court, said the pact had allowed US intelligence access to the data despite EU protection rules.

Around 4,400 US firms had signed up to the self-certification scheme, which was seldom enforced by the US federal trade commission. According to one independent study, hundreds had even lied about belonging to it.

Big US companies like Facebook use Safe Harbour.

Facebook told AFP in an email that "it is imperative that EU and US governments ensure that they continue to provide reliable methods for lawful data transfers and resolve any issues relating to national security".

The case heard in Luxembourg is rooted in a complaint against Facebook Ireland by Austrian privacy campaigner Max Schrems.

He argued in 2013 that Facebook Ireland could not guarantee his data was protected under Safe Harbour following US mass surveillance revelations from whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Ireland’s data protection authority at the time rejected his case because Facebook was in Safe Harbour. Schrems appealed and the case went to the Luxembourg-based Court.

Ireland’s court will now have to decide whether to suspend Facebook’s transfer of data to the US.

The Irish data protection commissioner Helen Dixon has since said that the ECJ “judgement extends far beyond the case presently pending in Ireland.”

EU imposes deadline for new US data pact

The European Commission is using the European Court of Justice ruling on Safe Harbour as a leverage to get a new deal with American authorities.

EU gives thumbs up to US data pact

Commission gives 'thumbs-up' to controversial Privacy Shield deal with US on data sharing after a year's operation - but notes room for improvement.

News in Brief

  1. EU universities to share students, curricula
  2. Migrant rescue ship loses Human Rights Court appeal
  3. Denmark completes social democrat sweep of Nordics
  4. Johnson offers 'do or die' pledge on Brexit
  5. Weber indirectly attacks Macron in newspaper op-ed
  6. EU to sign free trade deal with Vietnam
  7. EU funding of air traffic control 'largely unnecessary'
  8. Share trading ban looms as Swiss row with EU escalates

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  4. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  6. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  7. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  8. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  9. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate

Latest News

  1. EU moves to end car-testing 'confidentiality clause'
  2. EU parliament gives extra time for leaders on top jobs
  3. Europe's rights watchdog lifts Russia sanctions
  4. EU-Vietnam trade deal a bad day for workers' rights
  5. EU 'special envoy' going to US plan for Palestine
  6. Polish judicial reforms broke EU law, court says
  7. EU study: no evidence of 'East vs West' food discrimination
  8. Russia tried to stir up Irish troubles, US think tank says

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us