The European Commission has formally adopted the controversial ‘Privacy Shield’ framework intended to replace the previous Safe Harbour agreement.
Both schemes covered the transfer of data between the EU and the US, with the balance between free movement of data and the protection of individuals a tricky one to strike. Privacy Shield has many critics who fear it does little to address the issues faced by Safe Harbour. In spite of that the EC has decided to plough forward as anticipated.
“We have approved the new EU-US Privacy Shield today,” said Andrus Ansip, Commission VP for the Digital Single Market. “It will protect the personal data of our people and provide clarity for businesses. We have worked hard with all our partners in Europe and in the US to get this deal right and to have it done as soon as possible. Data flows between our two continents are essential to our society and economy – we now have a robust framework ensuring these transfers take place in the best and safest conditions.”
“The EU-U.S. Privacy Shield is a robust new system to protect the personal data of Europeans and ensure legal certainty for businesses,” said Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality. “It brings stronger data protection standards that are better enforced, safeguards on government access, and easier redress for individuals in case of complaints. The new framework will restore the trust of consumers when their data is transferred across the Atlantic. We have worked together with the European data protection authorities, the European Parliament, the Member States and our U.S. counterparts to put in place an arrangement with the highest standards to protect Europeans’ personal data”.
Not everyone in Brussels was convinced, however. “The Commission has today signed a blank cheque for the transfer of personal data of EU citizens to the US, without delivering equivalent data protection rights,” said the Green Party MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht. “The ‘Privacy Shield’ framework does not seem to address the concerns outlined by the European Court of Justice in ruling the Safe Harbour decision illegal. In particular the individual rights of consumers are still too weak and blanket surveillance measures are still in place. In this context, the Commission should not be simply accepting reassurances from the US authorities but should be insisting on improvements in the data protection guaranteed to European consumers.
“The European Parliament already underlined concerns about the lack of general data protection provisions in the US when the initial Safe Harbour decision was concluded in 2000. Independent data protection authorities are still lacking in the US. EU justice commissioner Jourova must now make clear that, once the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation enter into force in 2018, there will also be a need to revise the Privacy Shield decision.”
Elodie Dowling, VP, EMEA General Counsel at BMC Software reckons there’s still plenty of work to do. “Following negotiations between EU and US officials, the formal adoption of Privacy Shield has officially started today in the EU’s 28 member states,” said Dowling. “Starting August 1, it will then be for businesses across the US and the EU to innovate and comply around this in order to create a culture of trust amongst their customers.
“However, with the ongoing discussions generated throughout the negotiation period, it’s unlikely that the official adoption of the Privacy Shield closes the loophole completely. For example, it remains unclear the type of ‘assurances’ the US has provided to the EU to ensure mass surveillance does not apply or, if it does, that it happens in a transparent and framed manner for EU citizens. Surely this particular item is going to be carefully considered by data privacy activists.”