Sunday

23rd Sep 2018

Security exemptions cloud EU-US data talks

  • Over 4,000 US firms relied on Safe Harbour to transfer EU data to the US (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

US and EU negotiators are facing a long weekend to finalise a new Safe Harbour data-transfer agreement, with both sides voicing cautious optimism.

Outstanding issues on US national security access, in light of an October European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling that scrapped the old pact, remain despite over two years of talks and an end-of-month deadline looming for a new one.

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

Robert Litt, of the general counsel of the office of the US Department of National Intelligence (ODNI), who is spearheading the national security deadlock with his EU counterparts on the new Safe Harbour, told reporters on Friday (29 January) he had handed over all he could to ease European Commission doubt.

"The goal is to provide them the information they need to permit them to make a finding that we have privacy protections that are essentially equivalent to those in Europe, even if they are different from those in Europe", he said.

Litt, who describes US foreign signals intelligence activity as probably "more transparent than any other in the world", wouldn't go into detail on the security stumbling blocks.

But he noted an agreement could be reached on a new Safe Harbour before 2 February.

What went wrong?

Safe Harbour was a 15-year old data-sharing accord between the EU and the US. Over 4,000 US firms had signed up to the self-certification pact.

Enforced by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the pact was riddled with loopholes and contained US national security exemptions that spooked EU regulators into demanding reforms. The revelations of former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden ignited the issue.

The Washington Post, a US daily, reported that one Snowden documents said the NSA is using the covert Prism programme to directly access big Silicon Valley companies like Apple, Google and Facebook. But all the big firms denied it.

Prism is under section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which grants US access to data of non-Americans, as reported by this website before the story broke in other media.

Austrian privacy advocate Max Schrems reacted to the scandal by taking Facebook to court in Ireland, its European headquarters. His case ended up in Luxembourg, where the EU court invalidated Safe Harbour.

’Has to be effective'

Fears are mounting the new pact, if concluded, may not withstand scrutiny if it goes up back to the EU judges.

Companies had relied on Safe Harbour to transfer the data of EU citizens to the US, but now want to distance themselves from it. It’s become so toxic that US federal trade commissioner Julie Brill, who leads the commercial talks on the US side, suggested a name change.

The lead Safe Harbour negotiator for the European Commission, Bruno Gencarelli, said that, whatever the outcome, the new deal has to meet the requirements of the EU court ruling.

"It has to be effective, it has to be about detection, it has to be about supervision of any infringement to be identified and punished in practice. That is very important", he said on Friday.

US amendments

Persistent concerns also remain on how to safeguard the fundamental right to privacy of EU citizens.

On Thursday, US lawmakers tried to soothe them with a judicial redress act. The act is supposed to grant EU citizens the right to file lawsuits in US courts on alleged data privacy violations. But the introduction of last minute amendments may undermine it.

"The Act doesn't fulfil the minimum requirements it is supposed to achieve," said Joe McNamee, the director of European Digital Rights, a Brussels-based NGO.

The European data protection supervisor (EDPS), Giovanni Buttarelli, said he is looking into the US act, and would issue a report in early February, as well as an assessment of a so-called Umbrella Agreement, which deals with data exchange between law enforcement agencies.

"We plan to adopt a specific opinion on the Umbrella Agreement, which will come by early February, so we see there are some connections between the two issues", he told EUobserver.

Legal limbo as EU-US data talks drag out

EU and US firms have lapsed into legal limbo on data transfer, as MEPs and top EU and US officials scramble to create a new Safe Harbour treaty amid privacy concerns.

EU and US agree data 'Privacy Shield'

A new transatlantic agreement replaces the Safe Harbour deal with what the Commission says are increased guarantees for the protection of Europeans' personal data.

Opinion

Building a Europe more resilient to terrorism

One year to the day since the terror attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, the commissioner for home affairs spells out what action the EU is taking now to protect against further attacks.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK
  2. Wake-up call on European Day Against Islamophobia
  3. Sound of discord at 'Sound of Music' Salzburg summit
  4. Salzburg summit presses for bigger Frontex mandate
  5. UK's post-Brexit plan 'will not work', EU says
  6. Airbnb agrees to clarify pricing for EU
  7. Libya keeps coast guards rejected by the EU
  8. EU divisions on menu at Salzburg dinner

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  5. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  6. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  9. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  11. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us