A new trans-Atlantic data transfer framework has been agreed between the European Commission and the United States this week. Known as the ‘EU-US Privacy Shield’, the new arrangement is intended to offer greater legal certainty for businesses and afford EU citizens increased protection when their data is transferred across the Atlantic to the US.
The new regulations will replace the US-EU Safe Harbor framework, which was invalidated by the European Court of Justice last October on the basis that the generalised access that public authorities had to the data and content of electronic communications violated fundamental privacy rights. Read our earlier blog post on the Safe Harbour decision here.
The key features of the new EU-US Privacy Shield are:
- Stronger obligations on US companies to protect the personal data of EU citizens
- More robust enforcement powers granted to both EU and US regulators, including greater monitoring and prosecution by the US Department of Commence and Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
- Clearer conditions, limitations, redress avenues and safeguards for data transferred across the Atlantic
- Expanded obligations for US companies to prove compliance
- Several new avenues for EU citizens to lodge complaints about data misuse, including the establishment of a new independent privacy Ombudsman
The new Privacy Shield is still awaiting final approval from the College of Commissioners and will be subject to further review by the Article 29 Working Party before it is introduced. Much of the detail has not been released, so while the principles have been articulated, the impact on the obligations of affected companies is still far from clear.
Read the European Commission press release here for further details.
Our US and EU colleagues have drafted a more detail description which can be accessed here for further information.
On 26 October 2015, European Commissioner Vera Jourová, announced that the European Union had agreed in principle with the US on a new trans-Atlantic data-transfer agreement. Commissioner Jourová made the announcement in a speech, before the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, which addressed the recent judgment of the European Court of Justice that invalidated the safe harbour scheme between the two countries (Schemes decision). Commissioner Jourvá said, “there is agreement…in principle, but we are still discussing how to ensure that these commitments are binding enough to fully meet the requirements of the Court.” She also added that she expected both sides to make progress on the remaining technical points of discussion by mid-November, when she is scheduled to visit the US. The European Commission is also planning on issuing an explanatory Communication on the consequences of the Schemes decision so that businesses and industry have ‘clear explanations and a uniform interpretation of the ruling.’ The European Commission are also working towards a pending deadline set by European data protection authorities who have said that if, by the end of January 2016, no appropriate solution is found with the U.S. authorities, they will take all necessary and appropriate steps (including enforcement action) to enable data transfers to the U.S. that respect fundamental rights.
The European Commission’s press release can be found here.
The European Court of Justice has declared a decision by the European Commission on the legitimacy of the EU/US safe harbour scheme (safe harbour decision), invalid. In the wake of the Snowden scandal, Austrian citizen, Maximilian Schrems, lodged a complaint against Facebook with the Data Protection Commissioner in Ireland (the location of Facebook’s European headquarters). The Irish supervisory authority rejected Mr Schrems’ complaint on the basis of the safe harbour decision. In invalidating the safe harbour decision, the European Court of Justice declared that “legislation permitting the public authorities to have access on a generalised basis to the content of electronic communications must be regarded as compromising the essence of the fundamental right to respect for private life.” Further, that the safe harbour scheme, by not providing for an individual to pursue legal remedies in order to have access to personal data relating to them, or to obtain the rectification or erasure of such data, compromised, “the essence of the fundamental right to effective judicial protection, the existence of such a possibility being inherent in the existence of the rule of law.”
The consequence of this decision is that the EU/US safe harbour scheme is contrary to the Data Protection Directive, which provides that the transfer of personal data to a third country may, in principle, take place only if that third country ensures an adequate level of protection of the data.
The European Court of Justice’s press release can be found here.
To read the full judgment of the European Court of Justice click here.