EU, US officials close in on broad privacy accords

EU and US negotiators say they are close to reaching agreement on two data-protection deals

Vĕra Jourová, European Commissioner in charge of Justice, arrives at the EU-US Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial Meeting in Riga, Latvia, on June 3, 2015.

Vĕra Jourová, European Commissioner in charge of Justice, arrives at the EU-US Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial Meeting in Riga, Latvia, on June 3, 2015.

After years of thorny negotiations, top EU and U.S. officials say they are close to agreement on two privacy accords that would regulate the transfer of personal data of European citizens to the U.S.

At stake is the ability of U.S. and European companies and governments to share data about private citizens for commercial and law enforcement purposes.

A version of one of the two privacy deals being discussed, the Safe Harbor accord, has been in force for years but is being renegotiated. Failure to reach agreement on how to change the accord would spell serious trouble for companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter, which have relied on it to transmit data on EU citizens to the U.S. for processing and storage.

The Safe Harbor deal regulates the commercial transfer of personal data of EU citizens to the U.S. The second accord being negotiated is the so-called "Umbrella Agreement," meant to protect personal data transferred between the EU and the U.S. for law enforcement purposes. It's been under negotiation since March 2011.

EU and U.S. officials conferred Wednesday during an EU Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial meeting in Riga, Latvia, and said they made progress on the privacy agreements.

"I am so happy that we are close to final accord on such important measures as the Umbrella Agreement and the Safe Harbor provision," said U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch at a press conference after the meeting. It was her first time in Europe to negotiate the deals. "We have also sought to balance the individual right to privacy with the need to offer the greatest protection to all of our citizens, and I believe that we are indeed close to striking that balance and coming to a very positive accord."

European officials appeared to agree.

"On data protection issues, we are making solid progress," said Justice Commissioner Vra Jourová during the press conference.

The European Commission, the EU's executive and regulatory body, originally aimed to conclude the talks by the end of May.

The Commission had demanded a renegotiation of the Safe Harbor agreement after revelations by former U.S. security contractor Edward Snowden showed the extent of U.S. spying programs. In 2013, the Commission gave the U.S. a list of changes it wanted to the Safe Harbor accord. Most of them did not pose a problem, but a requirement for U.S. government officials to use the national security exception in the Safe Harbor agreement only "to an extent that is strictly necessary or proportionate," is still a hurdle.

Under Safe Harbor, companies like Facebook can send personal data they have collected from EU users to the U.S. However, U.S. law enforcement only has access to that data for purposes of national security.

Though officials were upbeat Wednesday about reaching agreement, they said that there is still work to be done.

"On Safe Harbor, with the Department of Commerce, we have achieved solid commitments on the commercial aspects," Jourová said. "However, work still needs to continue as far as national security exemptions are concerned. Discussions will continue, with the aim of achieving a robust revision of the Safe Harbor framework in the near future."

U.S. security officials are reluctant to disclose how they are using the national security exemption, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.

Meanwhile, the holdup in the Umbrella Agreement, which covers data used by law enforcement officials, is a long-standing demand from the EU for the U.S. to give European citizens the right to take U.S. authorities to court if they find their personal data is misused. Currently, U.S. citizens are allowed to sue EU authorities.

In order to extend these rights to EU citizens, a judicial redress bill was introduced in U.S. Congress in March. Adoption of this bill will allow the deal to be closed, Jourová said.

"I remain committed to finalize the text of the agreement and initial it as soon as possible. We are not yet fully there -- but I can tell you -- we are not far," she said.

U.S. and EU officials signed a joint statement on Wednesday in which they committed to finish both the Safe Harbor and Umbrella agreements. They also agreed to work closely together on cybercrime issues and increase all aspects of engagement and cooperation with communication service providers to tackle abuse of the Internet by terrorists.

However, separate from the EU-U.S. negotiations, the Safe Harbor agreement has also come under legal fire in the EU in a privacy lawsuit originating in Ireland and related to a complaint against how Facebook processes data. The case is currently before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The court's Advocate General is scheduled to give his opinion on the legality of Safe Harbor deal later this month.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags GooglesecuritygovernmentprivacyFacebook

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Loek Essers

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?