Data agreement: EU jumps into bed with Japan as tensions rise over US privacy shield

EU Commissioner in charge of justice, consumers and gender equality Vera Jourova gives a press conference in Brussels, Belgium, 23 April 2018. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

The EU will look to ensure the safe transmission of data between the bloc and Japan, Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová said on Wednesday (5 September). The announcement comes at a time the EU’s other big data transmission agreement, the EU-US privacy shield, faces harsh criticism.

The plans announced on Wednesday involve a reciprocal agreement between the EU and Japan in which both parties agree to recognise each other’s data protection systems. The safeguarding of EU citizens’ data when transmitted to Japan, as well as onto third countries, will be guaranteed under the agreement.

In addition, a complaint-handling system will be put in place that will look into complaints from Europeans regarding the access to data by Japanese public authorities.

Announcing the plans, Jourová said:

“We are creating the world’s largest area of safe data flows. Personal data will be able to travel safely between the EU and Japan to the benefit of both our citizens and our economies. Our partnership will promote global standards for data protection and set an example for future partnerships in this key area.”

However, the announcement comes a time when the EU’s other major data transmission agreement, the so-called EU-US privacy shield, is under intense scrutiny. The deal allows EU companies to export data to the US, on condition that the US pays due heed to EU data rules.

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Earlier this year, MEPs rallied the Commission to suspend the agreement, saying that the instrument does not effectively protect European citizens due to a failure of compliance by American companies.

The Commission is due to conduct a review in October on the effectiveness of the EU-US privacy shield and Jourová was clear on Wednesday that if requirements are not met in terms of US compliance with the agreement, the EU will take action.

“If the US authorities fail to comply with its terms, then it must be suspended until they do,” Parliament’s rapporteur for the agreement, Claude Moraes said in July.

In fact, concerns that US companies would ignore the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation prompted Jourová to write to US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in July.

The letter highlighted the need for the US to respect EU regulation and for a permanent Ombudsman to oversee the protection of EU data being transmitted to the US.

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“We want to have a sustainable working system that will be under the precise and prudent control from the side of the American authorities,” Jourová said on Wednesday. “If our requirements are not met, we will take action.”

The EU executive will now seek the approval on the EU-Japan proposals from the college of Commissioners, before contracting advice from the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs in the European Parliament.

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