Safe Harbor negotiators: Time is running out

Safe Harbor negotiators: Time is running out
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Negotiators from both sides of the Atlantic this weekend expressed urgency behind reaching a new Safe Harbor agreement before an end-of-the-month deadline.

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“I would like to say that we made progress, and we have to wrap up those negotiations and we have to deliver. Because time is running out, of course,” Andrus Ansip, vice president for the Digital Single Market on the European Commission, said Saturday during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Appearing on the same stage, Commerce Secretary Penny PritzkerPenny PritzkerDeVos should ‘persist’ despite liberal opposition Indiana teachers hold sit-in to demand Young recuse himself from DeVos vote Overnight Tech: Trump team eyes FCC overhaul | AT&T chief says no plans to spin off CNN in merger | Commerce pick heads to hearing MORE expressed similar sentiments.

“It's time for us to act and to stand together, and to demonstrate to companies and to the European Court of Justice and to all interested stakeholders that we've come a very long way,” Pritzker said.

The U.S. and the European Union have been working to develop a new framework to make legal trans-Atlantic data transfers after Europe’s high court invalidated the original pact over privacy concerns last October.

Under the terms of the original deal, negotiated in 2000, over 4,000 U.S. companies could “self-certify” that they met Europe’s more stringent privacy laws.

EU privacy regulators have only given negotiators until the end of January before they will begin to take enforcement action against U.S. companies that do not meet European standards.

Concerns over transparency and the exceptions made for national security have held up a final agreement.

Although both Pritzker and Ansip expressed confidence that meaningful progress has been made, they hinted at concerns a new framework will face scrutiny from privacy regulators immediately on enactment.

Critics have warned that a new Safe Harbor will likely be struck down by regulators and Europe's high court as summarily as the original.

“A revised Safe Harbor framework similar to the earlier Safe Harbor framework will almost certainly be found invalid by the national data protection agencies and ultimately by the [Court of Justice of the European Union],” a group of around 40 privacy groups from both sides of the Atlantic wrote to EU and U.S. officials in November.

Both Pritzker and Ansip warned that no single solution would be effective in resolving all of the high court’s concerns.

“I ask for bulletproof of solution, but if it will be not bulletproof, then we can be absolutely sure the European Court of Justice will intervene once again. So this is a process,” Ansip said.

Pritzker noted that an annual review process will help maintain a new agreement’s integrity over time.

“We have to recognize that all of these good folks are evolving technology probably faster than governments can react, but we've set up mechanism to recognize that the landscape will change, and that the solutions today will have to evolve,” she said.

Both negotiators emphasized the importance of reaching an agreement to protect trade between the U.S. and European nations, which topped $1 trillion in 2014.

“It's so easy to ask for more. Americans say they would like to get more, Europeans said they would like to get more, but time is running out, and we have to take care about our citizens, about our businesses,” Ansip said. “We have to allow those free and safe data flows between our two continents.”