Friday

16th Nov 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.

Romania data chief defends forcing press to reveal sources

Romania's data protection authority is headed by Ancuta Gianina Opre, who in 2017 was charged with abuse of office in her previous job. Last week, she threatened a €20m fine against journalists in their effort to uncover corruption.

EU warns Romania not to abuse GDPR against press

Romania's data protection authority has threatened a €20m fine against reporters investigating high-level corruption. The European Commission has since issued a warning, telling Romanian authorities to give press exemptions when it comes to privacy rights.

News in Brief

  1. US warns EU banks and firms against trading with Iran
  2. Merkel urged Romania not to move embassy to Jerusalem
  3. Protesters call for Czech leader to step down
  4. Former German chancellor labelled 'enemy' of Ukraine
  5. French lead opposition to Brexit deal on fisheries
  6. Private accounts of Danske Bank employees investigated
  7. UK's May defends Brexit deal to MPs, after ministers resign
  8. Brexit MP calls for 'no confidence' vote on May

Opinion

Interpol, China and the EU

China joins a long list of countries - including Russia - accused of abusing Interpol's 'Red Notice' system to harras activists and dissidents.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. How the EU commission got tunnel vision on self-driving cars
  2. No-confidence calls against May put Brexit deal in doubt
  3. Key points of the Brexit deal (if it ever comes into effect)
  4. Romania heaps scorn on 'revolting' EU criticism
  5. US steps in to clean up Cyprus
  6. 'Decisive progress' on Brexit as British cabinet backs deal
  7. Asylum for Macedonia's ex-PM puts Orban on spot
  8. How the 'EU's Bank' fails to raise the bar on accountability

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us