US-EU Reach Agreement on Framework to Replace Safe Harbor


Two days after a January 31st deadline to reach an agreement, the European Commission and the United States have agreed on a new framework for transatlantic data flows: the EU-US Privacy Shield to replace the Safe Harbor program struck down by the European Court of Justice.


The new arrangement will include the following elements:

  • Strong obligations on companies handling Europeans’ personal data and robust enforcement: U.S. companies wishing to import personal data from Europe will need to commit to robust obligations on how personal data is processed and individual rights are guaranteed. The Department of Commerce will monitor that companies publish their commitments, which makes them enforceable under U.S. law by the US. Federal Trade Commission. In addition, any company handling human resources data from Europe has to commit to comply with decisions by European DPAs.
  • Clear safeguards and transparency obligations on U.S. government access: For the first time, the US has given the EU written assurances that the access of public authorities for law enforcement and national security will be subject to clear limitations, safeguards and oversight mechanisms. These exceptions must be used only to the extent necessary and proportionate. The U.S. has ruled out indiscriminate mass surveillance on the personal data transferred to the US under the new arrangement. To regularly monitor the functioning of the arrangement there will be an annual joint review, which will also include the issue of national security access. The European Commission and the U.S. Department of Commerce will conduct the review and invite national intelligence experts from the U.S. and European Data Protection Authorities to it.
  • Effective protection of EU citizens’ rights with several redress possibilities: Any citizen who considers that their data has been misused under the new arrangement will have several redress possibilities. Companies have deadlines to reply to complaints. European DPAs can refer complaints to the Department of Commerce and the Federal Trade Commission. In addition, Alternative Dispute resolution will be free of charge. For complaints on possible access by national intelligence authorities, a new Ombudsperson will be created.

The Framework still requires approval within the European Commission which is not a certainty.  Max Schrems, the privacy activist who brought the case that invalidated the Safe Harbor, does not believe the framework will survive a legal challenge.

The Court has explicitly held, that any generalized access to such data violates the fundamental rights of EU citizens. The Commissioner herself has said this form of surveillance continues to take place in the US yesterday. Today there should be some agreement, in whatever form, that ensures that EU data is not used anymore. This will be the sticking point for a new challenge before the Court in respect to national surveillance.

Jan Philipp Albrecht, who was involved in updating European data regulations, dismissed the deal as “little more than a reheated serving of the pre-existing Safe Harbor decision” and a “sellout of the fundamental EU right to data protection”.


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