EU tells US it must make next move on new Safe Harbor deal

Reaching a new Safe Harbor agreement is urgent, but the U.S. must make the next move, European Commissioners said Friday

The European Union put the onus firmly on the U.S. to make the next move in negotiating a replacement for the now-defunct Safe Harbor Agreement on privacy protection for transatlantic personal data transfers.

"We need a new transatlantic framework for data transfers," said Vĕra Jourová, the European Commissioner for Justice and Consumers, emphasizing the urgency of the situation. However, she said at a news conference in Brussels on Friday, "It is now for the U.S. to come back with their answers."

EU law requires that companies guarantee the same privacy protection for the personal information of EU citizens that they hold, wherever in the world they process it.

The Safe Harbor Agreement was a simple mechanism by which companies could offer that guarantee. Reached between the European Commission and the U.S. in 2000, it allowed U.S. companies to certify that they followed EU privacy rules -- but it was struck down by the Court of Justice of the EU on Oct. 6 for not providing sufficient legal safeguards.

On Friday, the Commission published a new guide for businesses looking for ways to legally export personal information to the U.S., post Safe Harbor. However, it does little more than repeat the advice the Commission gave on the day of the court's ruling.

"Until such time as the renewed transatlantic framework is in place, companies need to rely on the alternative transfer tools available," the guide says.

Jourová recognized that won't always be easy: "Companies face some limitations when relying on alternative tools."

Safe Harbor was simple for European companies to implement, as all they had to do was contract with a U.S. data processor registered under the agreement. It was the responsibility of the U.S. company to ensure compliance.

The alternative mechanisms provided for in the EU's 1995 Data Protection Directive -- standard contract clauses, binding corporate rules, or obtaining the informed consent of the person whose data is transferred -- put the responsibility squarely on the company at the origin of the transfer.

"Whatever they choose, they must be able to prove that the protection is in place, that they guarantee the protection of data transferred to the U.S. This is especially a challenge for SMEs," Jourová said.

Her colleague Andrus Ansip, European Commissioner for the Digital Single Market, pointed out that the use of these tools is nothing new: Many companies began complying with the directive's requirements in the five years before Safe Harbor was introduced.

"Many of those data flows are based on contract clauses," he said.

Whether a new Safe Harbor agreement will resolve the questions raised by the court is open to doubt. Some critics have said that, without wholesale reform of U.S. law, it just isn't possible to provide the guarantees EU law requires. And while the majority of the EU's data protection authorities are still studying whether the alternative tools are sufficient, German authorities are so concerned about them that have suspended all new registrations for data exports  

Ansip gave a nod to some of those concerns: "It's up to lawyers to say exactly what will be needed. A legally binding administrative decision will be needed to make this Safe Harbor 2.0 bulletproof," he said.

In other words, Safe Harbor's successor isn't safe until it too has been tested by the EU's highest court.

That's the challenge, then, for the U.S. officials that Jourová is waiting to hear from. Next week, she said, she will travel to Washington, "to discuss the issue at the highest political level."

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Safe Harbor

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

Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Brother MFC-L3745CDW Colour Laser Multifunction

Learn more >

Mobile

Exec

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?