25th Mar 2018

EU and US sign law enforcement data pact

  • EU justice commissioner Jourova says the agreement, once implemented, 'will guarantee a high level of protection' (Photo: prameya)

The European Union on Tuesday (9 September) signed a privacy pact with the US, covering data transfers used to fight crime and terrorism.

Four years of talks have led to negotiators on both sides of the Atlantic signing the pact known as the EU-US data protection 'Umbrella agreement'.

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The deal follows revelations in 2013 that US spy agency NSA conducted mass and indiscriminate surveillance on EU citizens, was involved in industrial espionage, and spied on heads of state and ministers.

The European commission says the deal, which still needs the EU Parliament and member states' consent as well as the approval of the US Congress, will help restore lost trust.

The pact sets up rules to provide safeguards when personal data such as criminal records, names or addresses are transferred to US law enforcement agencies.

“It will in particular guarantee that all EU citizens have the right to enforce their data protection rights in US courts”, said EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova.

Allowing EU citizens to take judicial action in American courts if their data has been unlawfully or incorrectly used had been one of the stumbling blocks in the deal.

The EU had already given such rights to US citizens but wanted an equivalent for member state citizens.

The terms now in place mean that, for instance, a German can challenge a decision in American courts if placed on a US entry ban ‘black list’.

But issues persist on how US intelligence agencies snoop on the personal data of EU citizens from big American firms.

Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor, said the spy agency used covert programmes to access data from US tech firms such as Facebook.

And Safe Harbour?

A separate 15-year-old data transfer agreement to “ensure an adequate level of [data] protection” whenever the personal data of EU nationals is transferred to firms based in the US is also under review.

Known as Safe Harbor, the pact underpins a multi-billion euro industry dominated by giants like Google and Facebook, but is riddled with problems. The European Parliament last year voted to have it scrapped.

Over 3,000 US companies have signed up to the self-certification scheme but a study in 2013 found that hundreds had lied about belonging to the data protection arrangement.

The US Federal Trade Commission, tasked to enforce it, did little to crack down on the companies.

The European Commission, for its part, issued 13 recommendations to the Americans to improve it. That was almost two years ago.

The Americans are refusing to budge on the pact’s national security exceptions.

But Jourova now says she is confident the work on safe harbor “will soon conclude”.

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