EU and US reach deal on data sharing
The US and EU have agreed a new arrangement for transferring data across the Atlantic — to the relief of technology companies such as Facebook and Google which feared being forced to store information on European servers.
Under the deal, a top US director of national intelligence will personally sign a pledge that the US government will avoid “indiscriminate mass surveillance” of EU citizens when their information is sent from Europe to the US.
The new agreement replaces a previous data-sharing arrangement known as “safe harbour” relied upon by thousands of companies to transfer personal data, including everything from pictures to emails to payslips.
Safe harbour was judged illegal by the European Court of Justice in October. The court explicitly referred to allegations by whistleblower Edward Snowden of mass surveillance of European citizens by US agencies to justify its ruling.
The judgment left tech companies scrambling for alternative means for legally transferring information. In the worse case, they could have been forced to adopt disruptive and expensive plans for storing data in the EU.
Businesses that sign up to the new “EU-US privacy shield” will face regular checks by the US Department of Commerce to ensure they apply data protection standards akin to those found in the EU.
EU citizens will be able to complain to an ombudsman based in the US if they feel a business has not dealt with their complaint properly, according to the agreement.
However, the new arrangement is bound to face renewed legal challenges.
Max Schrems, the Austrian student who brought the initial complaint against “safe harbour”, said that it failed to solve the problems with the initial agreement.
“A couple of letters by the outgoing Obama administration is by no means a legal basis to guarantee the fundamental rights of 500m European users in the long run, when there is explicit US law allowing mass surveillance,” Mr Schrems said.