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EU, US agree on data sharing pact

July 12,2016 22:28

The U.S. and European Union have agreed on new privacy rules protecting data shared across the Atlantic. The EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, which ensures the protection of personal data shared by companies doing trans-Atlantic business, needed approval after ...

The U.S. and European Union have agreed on new privacy rules protecting data shared across the Atlantic.The EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, which ensures the protection of personal data shared by companies doing trans-Atlantic business, needed approval after the previous Safe Harbor agreement was ruled invalid by the European Court of Justice in October 2015.That pact, used by around 4,500 companies, had smoothed trans-Atlantic business with the requirement that U.S. companies provide privacy protections equal to those of EU companies.Such data transfer agreements are the lifeblood of large firms. Without them, they cannot share information with their European partners or their own European offices.The market is enormous. In 2014, U.S. digital service exports to Europe were worth $187 billion and imports were worth $110 billion, according to a 2016 report by Daniel Hamilton on the transatlantic economy.New provisions include improvements in the privacy violation resolution process and the appointment of a new State Department official, an EU-U.S. Privacy Shield Ombudsman to handle any European complaints."For businesses, the Framework will facilitate more trade across our borders, more collaboration across the Atlantic, and more job creating investments in our communities," Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said in prepared remarks at press conference in Brussels, Belgium, announcing the pact. "For consumers, the Framework will ensure you have access to your favorite online services and the latest technologies, while strongly protecting your privacy."The European court had ruled that previous provisions protecting data stored in the U.S. were inadequate, compared to EU protections. Those concerns arose in the wake of the revelations from national security documents leaked in 2013 by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.U.S. businesses have supported the new pact.The agreement "is a clear signal that the United States and Europe are able to advance regulatory cooperation arrangements built on high standards," said U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President and Head of International Affairs Myron Brilliant in a statement.Future challengeBut critics argue that the Privacy Shield's improvements do not go far enough. The pact "allows the sharing of your data for very broad and generic purposes, such as 'for all services we may provide to you and others.' This undermines a very crucial protection," wrote European Parliament member Jan-Philipp Albrecht and Max Schrems, a privacy advocate whose challenge to Facebook's privacy protections led to the invalidation of the Safe Harbor agreement, in The Irish Times Tuesday.The new agreement could still face long-term attack by European privacy groups, said Professor Felix Wu, director of the Data Law Initiative at Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University in New York City.The European Court could still decide that the extent of U.S. government surveillance makes the new Privacy Shield inadequate, he said.“It will probably take at least a couple of years though for a challenge to the Privacy Shield to reach the European Court of Justice, so it will be a while before we get a final answer to these questions,” Wu said.London-based Privacy International, a privacy rights group, has already said it believes the agreement is flawed in part because "the safeguards relating to unlawful surveillance, particularly mass surveillance, by U.S. intelligence agencies continue to not contain meaningful legal protections," the group said in a post on its site.However, Pritzker and Vera Jourova, the European Commissioner for Justice, both said they are confident that the new deal can withstand a court challenge. "The EU-U.S. Privacy Shield is a robust new system to protect the personal data of Europeans and ensure legal certainty for business," Jourova said. "It brings stronger data protection standards that are better enforced, safeguards on government access, and easier redress for individuals in case of complaints."Tech supportU.S. tech companies have expressed their support of the agreement, which comes after months of uncertainty and legal limbo."The Privacy Shield puts data flows between Europe and the U.S. on a solid legal foundation, ," Microsoft’s Vice President for EU government affairs John Frank wrote in a blog post.Tech Industry group DIGITALEUROPE, which represents Apple, Google, IBM and other U.S companies, was pleased with the vote."While negotiations have not been easy, we congratulate the European Commission and the U.S. Department of Commerce on the hard work over the past months aimed at restoring trust in data transfers between the E.U.and U.S.," said John Higgins, the groups director general.The Associated Press contributed to this report.Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSniderRead or Share this story: http://usat.ly/29LA8Gx

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