FTC chair says US 'well on our way' to new data pact with Europe

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The chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday that negoitators were “well on our way” to reaching a new agreement governing how American companies can store data belonging to Europeans.

“In my mind, I’m optimistic that we’re going to be able to find a solution to this, I’m hoping by the end of this month,” she said while appearing at the trade show CES. “But we’re well on our way I think to doing that.”

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Last year, a European court struck down a ‘safe harbor’ agreement that had allowed American companies to store European data stateside without incurring the wrath of privacy regulators on the continent. That has added urgency to the task before the U.S. and European Union officials who are negotiating a new pact.

Ramirez’s optimism is matched by her European colleagues, one of whom has said she is “confident” that a deal will be reached by an end-of-January deadline.

That would come as a relief to American tech companies who do business in Europe and fear their activities might suddenly be subject to a crackdown from privacy regulators. Ramirez echoed those concerns while speaking at the trade show, which is hosted by the Consumer Technology Association.

“Frankly, in my view, the current situation of uncertainty is absolutely untenable,” said Ramirez. “It’s not good for businesses, who are uncertain about the legal terrain and their footing in this arena. And secondly, it’s not good for privacy.”

Concerns over the treatment of European data by American companies increased after National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed a sprawling domestic spying program in the United States.

But Ramirez pushed back against the idea that European regulators were prone to going after American companies because they were industry leaders compared to their European competitors.

“I think there’s a lot of rhetoric that you hear on the European side,” she said. “But I work very closely, and we has as an agency work very closely with European commissioners.”