Sunday

13th Jun 2021

EU states endorse data sharing pact with US

  • Data transfers between the US and EU are worth some €230 billion a year. (Photo: Nicolas Nova)

Most EU governments on Friday (8 July) backed a new data sharing agreement with the United States.

The European Commission is now set to launch the so-called Privacy Shield pact next Tuesday after it issues a so-called 'adequacy decision'.

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Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Slovenia had abstained from backing the latest agreement, an EU official told this website.

Despite the abstentions, the broader endorsements means Shield will now formally replace, Safe Harbour, a 15-year old agreement that was declared invalid last October by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

The agreement aims to safeguard the privacy of Europeans when their data is transferred to firms based in the United States.

EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova and her US counterpart had in February declared a political agreement on the pact.

But when national data protection authorities in the Article 29 Working Party combed it over, they told the EU commission in April to come back with an improved version.

The working party said the deal contained loopholes and allowed the US to bulk collect data of EU citizens. They also had issues on a US oversight plan.

Jourova last month told this website that the latest reiteration had addressed the outstanding concerns raised by the privacy regulators.

On Friday, in a statement, she said Shield "will ensure a high level of protection for individuals and legal certainty for business."

Jourova says the US had given her written assurances that they won't engage in the indiscriminate mass surveillance of EU citizen data.

Those assurances also include promises of "clear limitations, safeguards and oversight mechanisms" whenever the police or national security in the US want access to the data of Europeans.

The deal is also important for businesses who have had to contend with more complex and costly data transfer methods since the Luxembourg court scrapped the old Safe Harbour agreement.

Privacy Shield should make those transfers more straightforward.

Brussels-based DigitalEurope, which represents the digital technology industry in Europe, said in a statement that they hope "Privacy Shield will ease some of the recent pressure on alternative transfer mechanisms."

But not everyone is convinced the latest plan won't end up back at the European Court of Justice.

Digital rights defenders at Access Now say the reformed Shield still allows for the mass collection of people's data by the US.

"The recommendations made by experts to bring the Privacy Shield in line with EU law have been largely ignored by the EU Commission in the redrafting process," said Estelle Masse, a policy analyst at Access Now, in a statement.

Jourova, for her part, is set to discuss the deal with MEPs in the civil liberties committee on Monday.

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