U.S., EU Agree on Privacy Shield to Maintain Transatlantic Data Flow

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2016-02-02 Print this article Print
Data Safe Harbor

Furthermore, the U.S. has engendered profound mistrust among Europeans as a result of the revelations of former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden about U.S. intelligence agencies' ability to intercept and analyze international communications. This means that this new safe harbor agreement is sure to get extremely close scrutiny by EU privacy authorities.

This lack of trust means it's likely that there will be legal challenges that delay the ratification of a final agreement. In fact, at least one EU privacy advocate has reportedly filed a challenge, and more are reportedly on the way. But right now, the two governments are acting as if the Privacy Shield is a done deal, even though it might not be.

"This historic agreement is a major achievement for privacy and for businesses on both sides of the Atlantic. It provides certainty that will help grow the digital economy by ensuring that thousands of European and American businesses and millions of individuals can continue to access services online," said Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, in a prepared statement.

The U.S. has apparently provided written assurances to the EU in regard to the privacy protections that the negotiators have agreed to. The new agreement has been hailed by U.S. companies, including Apple, Microsoft and Google, which have been worried that they could lose a significant portion of their European business.

However, that enthusiasm isn't echoed in Europe, where privacy advocates are suggesting that even written assurances don't have any real legal protection, since they suspect that the U.S. intelligence community will simply ignore any assurances that prove inconvenient.

Some U.S. groups are also expressing their doubts and suggesting that more needs to be done on the part of the United States. "In the wake of the Snowden disclosures, European citizens and policymakers are understandably concerned about privacy safeguards in U.S. law. But abruptly revoking the Safe Harbor agreement was the wrong way to address those concerns," Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said in a statement.

 "We are pleased that U.S. and European policymakers have resolved this issue and support the free flow of data between these two markets. We hope the new agreement signifies a line of thinking that will shape future EU policy decisions as well," Castro said.

Castro noted that the U.S. and the EU still need to make significant privacy reforms, including the passage of the Judicial Redress Act and in Europe the limiting of such protectionist measures as the European Cloud and a realization of the global nature of the world's digital markets.

For now, officials in the U.S. and Europe are mostly hoping that privacy advocates hold their fire long enough for the agreement to be approved in its final form, which could take several more months.


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