EU lawmakers approve major US-EU data transfer deal

EU lawmakers approve major US-EU data transfer deal
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A major U.S.-European Union data transfer pact has cleared a significant hurdle and is set for final approval as early as next week.

EU lawmakers approved the so-called Privacy Shield in a Friday vote that “paves the way for the formal adoption of the legal texts and for getting the EU-US Privacy Shield up and running,” according to the EU Commission.

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The vote displayed “strong confidence” in the new arrangement, which for months has been dogged by concerns over U.S. surveillance practices.  

While the Commission — which negotiated the deal with the U.S. Commerce Department — has stumped tirelessly for the new deal, privacy advocates and some European lawmakers argued that the pact doesn’t go far enough to protect Europeans’ fundamental right to privacy.

But onlookers suspected that the roiling uncertainty after the U.K.’s vote to exit the EU would push jumpy lawmakers to ease uncertainty wherever they could by approving the deal.

Business groups immediately hailed the vote, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and major tech industry organizations. 

“We look forward to the formal adoption by the Commission and the entry into force of this agreement, which we believe is in the interest of the economies on both sides of the Atlantic and to all industry sectors and citizens who benefit greatly from data-driven efficiencies,” said Thomas Boué, director general of policy at BSA The Software Alliance.

The Privacy Shield is intended to replace a 15-year-old framework used by U.S. companies to make legal transfers of personal data across the Atlantic. The old Safe Harbor arrangement was used by over 4,000 companies, from hospitality to social media, to meet Europe’s more stringent privacy requirements for handling citizens’ data.

The EU high court struck down the agreement in October, on the basis that the U.S. could not be seen to adequately protect privacy because of its surveillance practices.

Negotiators struggled to craft a replacement to the critical deal, faced with an uphill road in convincing Europe’s 28 data privacy regulators. The bloc’s lead watchdog in May said a draft deal struck in February needed “robust improvements.”

“I appreciate the efforts made to develop a solution to replace Safe Harbor but the Privacy Shield as it stands is not robust enough to withstand future legal scrutiny before the [European high court],” European Data Protection supervisor Giovanni Buttarelli said in a statement.

Critics were equally unimpressed by the updated draft lawmakers approved on Friday.

The final deal is widely expected to face legal challenges from privacy advocates, including the activist who brought the original case that led to the termination of the old Safe Harbor deal.

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.

The Commission is expected to formally adopt the new deal on Tuesday, according to multiple reports.