Wednesday

18th Oct 2017

Hundreds of US companies make false data protection claims

  • Data visualisation map for one client by internet firm LinkedIn (Photo: luc legay)

Hundreds of US-based companies handling EU citizens' data have lied about belonging to a data protection arrangement known as the Safe Harbour Framework.

Christopher Connolly, a director at Galexia, an Australian-based consulting company on internet law and privacy, told the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee on Monday (7 October) that “many claims of Safe Harbour membership are false.”

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

He said around one out of every seven Safe Harbour claims of membership are bogus.

The Safe Harbour agreement, hammered out in 2000 between the European Commission and the US Department of Commerce, is supposed to ensure that firms follow EU data protection laws when processing the personal data of EU citizens.

Just under 3,000 companies have signed up to the self-certification scheme, which is only enforceable once the company makes a promise to adhere to a handful of privacy principles.

Companies are also entitled to limit the scope to cover only human resource data, or consumer data, or just offline data.

Galaxia research found over 200 false claims in 2008. This had increased to 427 in September 2013.

“In those 427 organisations, you will find large household names in Europe, with hundreds of millions of customers,” Connolly said.

He added that some of the companies place unauthorised Safe Harbour seals and logos on their website without ever having signed up to the framework in the first place.

The unauthorised visual symbols often have the word ‘EU’ or the European flag on the seal.

“These are simply very low quality and false representations of the actual membership of the Safe Harbour,” Connolly noted.

Over 10 percent of companies that make a false claim of Safe Harbour membership display the US department of commerce Safe Harbour logo on their website.

Privacy advocates have for years asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which enforces Safe Harbour, to address the false claims but with little success.

The FTC has filed six cases of false claims against minor companies and did not sanction any of them.

Around 30 percent of all companies do not provide any information on dispute resolution options, contrary to the Safe Harbour rules. Others who display resolution options point to agencies that charge thousands of dollars to file a complaint.

Over 460 members cite the American Arbitration Association as their dispute resolution provider, which charges the person filing the complaint between $120 and $1,200 per hour with a four-hour minimum charge plus a $950 administration fee.

Meanwhile, Safe Harbour has no provisions to stop NSA-type activities from snooping on EU citizens.

Financial records, data records, travel records, and data and voice carried by US telecommunications providers are excluded from Safe Harbour jurisdiction.

“It would be dangerous to rely on Safe Harbour to manage any aspect of the specific national security issue we face now without first addressing the broader issue of false claims and non-compliance,” Connolly said.

The European Commission, for its part, said it is possible the agreement contains loopholes.

It noted, a few weeks after former NSA agent turned whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked secret documents to the Washington Post and the Guardian, that US data protection standards are lower than in the EU.

"The Safe Harbour agreement may not be so safe after all,” said EU commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding in July.

The commission is set to come out with an assessment report on Safe Harbour before the end of the year.

The FTC, for its part, says the agreement ensures the safe transfer of data of EU citizens.

“We think it is a great way for us to protect European citizens when we are doing a case involving a US company,” FTC commissioner Julie Brill told reports in Brussels in March.

EU privacy bill - one-stop shop

For her part, Reding also on Monday in Luxembourg said "an overwhelming majority" of EU justice ministers gave her "a very strong political endorsement" on a separate EU data privacy bill.

Under the draft law, EU citizens who want to complain about data-mishandling by internet firms, such as Facebook or Google, which have their EU seats in Ireland, can appeal to their national data chiefs instead of trying to reach the more remote Irish authorities.

On the other side, companies can tackle EU-wide data cases through the data chief in the EU country in which they have their HQ, instead of dealing with 28 different EU authorities.

Reding said her officials will draft a final version of the bill in December, with a view to adoption before EU elections in May 2014.

EU okays Privacy Shield's first year

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 summit moved to previous building after fumes scare
  2. Catalonia will 'not back down'
  3. New toxic incident in EU building ahead of summit
  4. Murdered Malta journalist's family invited to Parliament
  5. EU food safety chief denies keeping studies 'secret'
  6. EU states pledge 24,000 resettlement places so far
  7. US ready for arms sale to update Greece's F-16 fleet
  8. Austria's Green leaders step down following election failure

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  2. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  5. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  6. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  7. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  8. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!
  9. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  10. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  12. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year

Latest News

  1. EU okays Privacy Shield's first year
  2. EU seeks to decrypt messages in new anti-terror plan
  3. EU agencies defend research ahead of glyphosate vote
  4. Spain points at elections as exit to Catalan crisis
  5. How EU can ensure Daphne Caruana Galizia's legacy survives
  6. Juncker dinner to warm up relations with eastern EU
  7. Court hearing in MEPs 'private' expenses battle
  8. The unbearable lightness of leadership

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  2. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State
  3. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  4. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  6. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation
  8. UNICEFSocial Protection in the Contexts of Fragility & Forced Displacement
  9. CESIJoin CESI@Noon on October 18 and Debate On: 'European Defence Union: What Next?'
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Support Start-Ups
  11. ILGA EuropeInternational Attention Must Focus on LGBTI People in Azerbaijan After Police Raids
  12. European Jewish CongressStrong Results of Far Right AfD Party a Great Concern for Germans and European Jews