Saturday

27th Nov 2021

Legal limbo as EU-US data talks drag out

  • Wi-fi on New York subway: EU and US scupper deadline on new Safe Harbour pact (Photo: newyorkpass.com)

The EU and US want more time to agree a new data transfer pact amid outstanding issues on US security access, as companies fall into legal limbo.

"Talks are still ongoing, including at the political level,” EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova told MEPs in Strasbourg on Monday (1 February).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The two sides are trying to reach a new Safe Harbour agreement, which governs how US firms respect privacy rights of EU citizens whenever they transfer and use their data.

Data protection authorities had imposed a three-month deadline in November after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) scrapped the original 15-year old scheme on grounds it exposed Europeans to US privacy abuse.

That deadline officially ended on Sunday (31 January) with the Article 29 Working Party, a committee of all EU data protection authorities, having threatened “coordinated enforcement actions” against US firms.

Firms are now relying on internal rules and contractual clauses binding them to data protection laws to govern transfers, but EU regulators are due to decide on Wednesday whether this kind of practice should be restricted.

At stake is trust, with the EU side unconvinced US authorities will fully respect any new agreement, given past revelations of US-led mass surveillance by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

"What we need now is trust but we also have the duty to check, for this purpose, we will put in place annual joint-review," said Jourova.

Signatures is all you need

Any new pact will be based on "an exchange of letters" signed by top authorities in the US and EU.

The two sides have been at loggerheads over national security access to data for the past two years, with the EU court ruling in October giving the EU a boost in calling for more guarantees.

EU negotiators want to make sure the new pact is both binding and enforceable, so that it stands up to any fresh legal challenge.

A US judicial redress act, designed to allow non-US citizens to sue in US courts over privacy violations, was meant to ease concerns. But last-minute amendments appear to have undermined the redress act.

Jourova did not go into details of the dispute, noting that she first needed to provide a report to all EU commissioners at their weekly meeting on Tuesday.

The lack of accord is a blow to the some 4,000 firms that had relied on Safe Harbour to transfer data.

It points to lack of assurances by the US to respect the EU demands.

It also remains unclear how the privacy protection rights of EU citizens can be guaranteed when US national security and intelligence gathering is covert by nature.

Written assurances

Another idea, still under discussion, is to set up an ombudsperson in the US who could respond to complaints of alleged privacy violations by EU citizens.

Jourova added that she wanted written assurances from the US that access by public authorities to personal data transferred from Europe will be limited to what is "necessary and proportionate".

But not everyone was convinced by her argument.

Dutch liberal MEP Sophie In't Veld pointed out that a signed letter by the current US administration might no longer be valid after the forthcoming presidential election.

"The legal status of 'written assurances' or 'signatures at the highest level' is very unclear. And can we really expect an ombudsman to oversee US secret services?" she said.

Should the next administration not respect the pact, then it would be suspended, responded Jourova.

Security exemptions cloud EU-US data talks

Lead negotiators on both sides of the Atlantic say agreement on EU-US data transfer can be reached, but remain at odds over US security exemptions.

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.

Frontex chief: 'about time' MEPs probe his agency

Some 14 MEPs have created a group to probe allegations of rights abuse by the EU's border agency Frontex. Its head, Fabrice Leggeri, welcomed its creation and said it "is about time".

Romania denies forcing migrant-boat back to Turkish waters

Romania's ministry of internal affairs wrote to Frontex claiming it did not engage in any illegal pushbacks of people on rubber boats into Turkish territorial waters. The country says it followed EU engagement rules and Greek orders.

LGBTI fears over new Polish member at EU institution

A letter sent to the European Economic and Social Committee by a group of cross-party MEPs fighting for LGBTi rights expresses fears that a recently-appointed Polish member may try to undermine those rights.

News in Brief

  1. Covid variant: EU to block travel from southern Africa
  2. France and UK seek EU help on Channel migrants
  3. New Swedish PM who resigned after 7 hours gets second chance
  4. Belgium to decide on Friday on Covid measures
  5. UK rings alarm on new Covid strain in South Africa
  6. Turkish police use tear gas at women's rights march
  7. Poland calls for more Nato troops
  8. Ex-Navalny aide leaves Russia

Feature

Covid-hit homeless find Xmas relief at Brussels food centre

The Kamiano food distribution centre in Brussels is expecting 20 people every half hour on Christmas Day. For many, Kamiano is also more than that - a support system for those made homeless or impoverished.

Top court finds Hungary and Poland broke EU rules

EU tribunal said Hungary's legislation made it "virtually impossible" to make an asylum application. Restricting access to international protection procedure is a violation of EU rules.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew report reveals bad environmental habits
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersImproving the integration of young refugees
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals

Latest News

  1. Belgium goes into three-week 'lockdown light'
  2. MEPs list crimes of 'Kremlin proxy' mercenaries
  3. EU to open up 'black box' of political ads
  4. Can the ECB solve climate change and inflation on its own?
  5. EU set to limit vaccine certificate to nine months
  6. Surprise coalition in Romania without former Renew's Ciolos
  7. This 'Black Friday' is a turning point in corporate accountability
  8. West struggling to show strength on Ukraine

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us