EU commissioner will 'suspend' Privacy Shield if Trump puts in jeopardy

News by Max Metzger

A senior EU commissioner has said that she will halt Privacy Shield if she doesn't feel it's safe in the current administration's hands.

A senior EU commissioner has said she would suspend the EU Privacy Shield agreement if the current US administration doesn't play ball. Vera Jourova, the European Union's Commissioner for justice, consumers and gender Equality told Bloomberg that, “I will not hesitate to do it. There's too much at stake.”

Jourova is expected to meet with the US president at the end of March, where she told Bloomberg, she will want “reconfirmation and reassurances” on the integrity of the Atlantic privacy pact.  

Privacy Shield is the current data protection regime in the Atlantic Area. In light of revelations about US surveillance practices, the decades old Safe Harbour principles were struck down by European courts in 2015. Privacy Shield, having made it through a long and fraught conception, is intended to save European citizens from the gaze of the kind of US data collection practices revealed by Edward Snowden.

One particular point of contention has been a recent executive order signed by Trump, called Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States. The demands that US agencies “exclude person who are not United States citizens or lawful permanent residents from the protections of the Privacy Act regarding personally identifiable information.” The signing of the order at the end of January, prompted the European commission to ask for reassurance from the US in early February.

While several departments of the US government has reassured European officials that Privacy Shield is moving ahead, the uncertainty surrounding the Trump presidency has reportedly disconcerted European officials. The announcement of the order prompted Jan Philipp Albrecht, the European Parliament's chief negotiator on privacy rules, to call for the suspension of Privacy Shield.

Jourova, along with a host of other senior EU figures, was sent a letter by leading civil liberties groups earlier this week, echoing Jourova's statements to Bloomberg. Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote in the letter that the fundamental basis for Privacy Shield was being undermined by two recent political developments. The first was Trump's recent executive order forbidding US agencies from extending the same privacy rights to foreign citizens or foreign legal residents that full US citizens might enjoy. The second was the poor functioning of the US Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board which is intended to play a key part in the US side of privacy shield.

Graham Mann, managing director of Encode Group UK thinks its unlikely that Trump's order will impact EU-US data protection because it's limited to data that is gathered by US agencies directly. Mann points to the fact that the order specifies it should be carried out “to the extent consistent with applicable law”.

“US policy is in a state of flux”, said Mann “and therefore it's too soon to second guess what might happen in regard to US - EU data privacy moving forward.”

That said, Mann added, “the US Administration are clearly determined to push back on laws that are seen to constrain business, whilst releasing the shackles on the law enforcement agencies. Such policies are divergent from the EU direction of travel, and so there (are) likely to be issues in the future.”

Neither Human Rights Watch nor the European Commission responded for comment.

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