EU lawmakers push for renegotiation of US data transfer deal

EU lawmakers on Thursday urged the European Commission to renegotiate “deficiencies” in a recently struck data-flow agreement with the United States.


The European Parliament passed a nonbinding resolution 501-119 on Thursday.

Members worried the current plan doesn't sufficiently protect European citizens' data and that a future ombudsman the deal creates to monitor abuses wouldn’t be appropriately independent.

The pending deal, known as the Privacy Shield, is intended to provide a legal framework for U.S. companies to handle European citizens’ data.

But its ultimate approval has been hampered in the EU over concerns about U.S. surveillance practices. And the Commerce Department has indicated that it would be reluctant to renegotiate the deal with the Commission. 

The EU high court last fall overturned the Privacy Shield’s predecessor — known as Safe Harbor — on the basis that the U.S. could not meet the EU's privacy standards in part because of the intelligence practices revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

In announcing the Privacy Shield earlier this year, European Commission officials insisted that the U.S. had provided “detailed written assurances” that surveillance of Europeans’ data by intelligence agencies would be subject to appropriate limitations.

“The U.S. has clarified that they do not carry out indiscriminate surveillance of Europeans,” Andrus Ansip, vice president for the digital single market on the European Commission, said when the deal was announced.

The stakes are enormous should a new legal mechanism not be established. Businesses fear a chilling of transatlantic trade, valued at $1 trillion in 2014.

But many privacy advocates, including the Austrian activist who brought the case that ultimately invalidated Safe Harbor, are unconvinced.

“As long as the U.S. does not substantially change its laws, I don’t see now there could be a solution,” Max Schrems said Wednesday.

Schrems also is behind a separate case that this week was referred to Europe’s high court. It questions Facebook’s use of certain contractual language to make legal its transatlantic data transfers.

Critics have long warned that unless the U.S. overhauls its privacy and national security laws, no legal framework could stand up in European courts.

“There is only one yardstick: is this or is this not Schremsproof? It seems to me the Commission is prepared to make a decision knowing that it will not stand in court," Sophie in 't Veld, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, said Wednesday night, according to Ars Technica.