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EC ploughs forward with Privacy Shield despite widespread concerns

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The European Commission has announced it will continue ahead with the EU-US Privacy Shield despite the European Data Protection Supervisor claiming the pact is not robust enough.

Since Safe Harbour was struck down by the European Court of Justice last year, the industry has been in limbo as politicians were unable to draft an agreement between the US and EU, which met the criteria for data protection in the European market. In May, European Data Protection Supervisor, Giovanni Buttarelli, outlined his concerns on whether the proposed agreement will provide adequate protection against indiscriminate surveillance, believing the pact would not be strong enough to stand up.

“Today Member States have given their strong support to the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, the renewed safe framework for transatlantic data flows,” said Vice-President Andrus Ansip and Commissioner Věra Jourová in a joint statement. “This paves the way for the formal adoption of the legal texts and for getting the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield up and running. The EU-U.S. Privacy Shield will ensure a high level of protection for individuals and legal certainty for business.”

Despite the European Commission pushing forward with the draft, there have been a number of individuals and parties within the EU who have criticised the agreement. For some, the EU-US Privacy Shield is simply a reheated Safe Harbour, with very little to address the concerns of the original agreement.

Article 29 Working Group is another influential group has highlighted to the industry the pact has made progress, though it did identify a number of shortcomings when looking at mass surveillance and oversight. The new agreement does encourage organizations to be more considered and conservative when sharing data with US, however critics of the new agreement have claimed there are still too many exceptions where the US and its intelligence agencies can move around the agreement. Despite the concerns, the European Commission has ploughed ahead.

On the other side of the argument, Microsoft has somewhat unsurprisingly confirmed its support of the pact, though it has stated it should go further. In any case, a large vendor expressing its support for an agreement which would enable the organization to do more business in Europe should not be met with astonishment.

“It is fundamentally different from the old ‘Safe Harbour': It imposes clear and strong obligations on companies handling the data and makes sure that these rules are followed and enforced in practice,” said the announcement. “For the first time, the U.S. has given the EU written assurance that the access of public authorities for law enforcement and national security will be subject to clear limitations, safeguards and oversight mechanisms and has ruled out indiscriminate mass surveillance of European citizens’ data.”

“And last but not least the Privacy Shield protects fundamental rights and provides for several accessible and affordable redress mechanisms. During the formal adoption process, the Commission has consulted as broadly as possible taking on board the input of key stakeholders, notably the independent data protection authorities and the European Parliament. Both consumers and companies can have full confidence in the new arrangement, which reflects the requirements of the European Court of Justice. Today’s vote by the Member States is a strong sign of confidence.”

It would appear the European Commission is moving forward to demonstrate to the industry progress is being made, though could be seen as a flimsy approach. With the concerns expressed by influential and respected bodies within the industry, it should not be seen as a surprise if the agreement is struck down once again by the European Court of Justice.


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