US President Barack Obama has been urged to personally intervene in the negotiations over a new safe harbour agreement – which allows the transfer of personal data between Europe and the States – after being warned of the dire consequences if next month’s talks fail.
The stakes are high; most UK personal data held in the cloud is based in the US, meaning it is no longer legal. Meanwhile the issue is also affecting huge tech giants, such as Google and Facebook, which also use US-based operations to hold user data.
More than 4,000 US companies have so far enjoyed using the safe harbour rules agreed between the Commission and the US Department of Commerce, which permit the easy transfer of personal data between the two.
The US Chamber of Commerce, BusinessEurope, DigitalEurope and the Information Technology Industry Council have penned an open letter to Obama and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warning of the dire consequences of a failure to reach an agreement.
They wrote: “This issue must be resolved immediately or the consequences could be enormous for the thousands of businesses and millions of users impacted.”
The Safe Harbour agreement, which protected EU data from government access when transferred to the US, was ruled invalid last year by the European Court of Justice.
The October ruling upheld advice issued by Advocate General Yves Bot following a case brought against Facebook by Austrian lawyer Max Schrems. He argued the Edward Snowden disclosures show there is no effective data protection regime in the US.
At the time, Ashley Winton, UK head of data protection and privacy at international law firm Paul Hastings, said the ruling has serious repercussions for multi-national companies with operations in Europe.
“Many European data protection regulators, particularly those in Germany, have long believed that the conditions of the safe harbour scheme are not substantial enough and the effect of today’s ruling will empower them to investigate and check the acceptability of any data transfer themselves.”
Negotiations are set to continue this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Privacy regulators from both sides of the Atlantic are due to meet in Brussels 2 February in an effort to seal a new deal.
However, the EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova, who is leading the negotiations on behalf of the EU, has claimed the issue much more complicated than simply coming up with a quick-fire solution.
“Only a comprehensive arrangement with clear legal commitments can ensure the protection of personal data,” she said. “When data travels, the protection has to travel with it.”
The UK Information Commissioner’s Office has so far taken a “don’t panic” approach. It has insisted it will not be taking enforcement action any time soon as it recognises it may take months for businesses to make changes.
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