MEPs want Commission to toughen up Privacy Shield under Trump

EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova

Vera Jourova, the EU justice Commissioner, said the Trump administration has promised her it won't change Obama-era privacy laws that are the bedrock of an EU-US data transfer deal. [European Commission]

The European Parliament wants the European Commission to ‘Trump-proof’ the Privacy Shield data sharing agreement between the EU and the United States after the new US administration threatened to roll back some privacy safeguards.

A slender majority of MEPs approved a resolution today (6 April) asking the Commission to force the Trump administration to guarantee privacy safeguards and give the European Parliament access to documents detailing how the Privacy Shield agreement has been enforced by US authorities during a legal review in September. The resolution passed with 306 votes in favour and 240 against.

EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova tried to calm MEPs’ fears that the Trump administration could slash a set of privacy rules that former President Obama introduced and which became the legal basis for the data sharing deal.

If the Obama-era rules are repealed, the data sharing deal could be taken down in court like its predecessor, the Safe Harbour agreement, which was ruled illegal in October 2015 because of shoddy privacy rules in the US.

Jourova visited senior Trump administration officials last week in Washington to talk about the agreement, which was sealed in July 2016 after fraught, drawn-out negotiations between the Commission and the the US.

She told MEPs yesterday that American officials promised her “there are no changes foreseen” to the directive, known as presidential policy directive 28, or PPD 28. Trump-appointed CIA director Mike Pompeo called for the privacy directive to be repealed last year, before he took office.

Jourova said she “made absolutely clear to American partners that this is the main pillar” for keeping Privacy Shield in place.

“If we are faced with any developments that could negatively affect the level of protection afforded under the Privacy Shield, the Commission will take responsibility and use all available mechanisms, be it review, suspension, revocation, repeal to promptly react,” she said yesterday evening during the Parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg.

Privacy Shield agreement signed off despite vote abstentions

EU member states today (8 July) signed off on the controversial Privacy Shield agreement for data transfers to the US, locking down the final deal after the European Commission haggled for months with the US over legal details.

Legal challenges against Privacy Shield were lodged soon after it went into effect last summer and are still being heard in European courts.

The MEPs’ resolution took aim at the Trump administration for not yet appointing an ombudsman, a role within the US State Department that was created to deal with consumers’ complaints about data protection under the Privacy Shield. Jourova told MEPs to be patient, citing the thousands of vacancies still left for the new administration to fill in the State Department.

The resolution also took aim at the Trump administration’s move earlier this week to repeal Obama-era privacy rules affecting broadband internet providers, which would have have created an extra layer of privacy protection for internet users in the US.

British Socialist MEP Claude Moraes said the Commission should “urgently” look at whether EU citizens’ personal data will be compromised without the protection of the broadband privacy law.

The Privacy Shield agreement will face scrutiny in September, when Commission officials travel to Washington to review how the deal has been enforced. The Commission promised last year to hold an annual review of the agreement, amid backlash from critics who argued that privacy rules could be relaxed if Trump were to be elected president.

In the Parliament resolution, MEPs ask for access to any documents related to the annual review, which will address touchy topics like surveillance by US intelligence agencies, one of the issues that toppled the Safe Harbour deal.

Several MEPs said Europeans’ data is already less safe now once it is transferred to the US.

“The Trump administration has already shown that it is not concerned about data protection,” said German Green MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht, who was the Parliament’s rapporteur on the new EU data protection rules that are set to go into effect next year.

Jourova’s predecessor, Luxembourgish centre-right MEP Viviane Reding, who served as justice Commissioner until 2014, had sharp words for the data sharing agreement.

“I have the feeling that the Shield might have already turned into a smokescreen,” she said.

Parliament asks Commission to renegotiate Privacy Shield

The European Parliament has asked the Commission to reopen negotiations with the United States and shore up gaps in the Privacy Shield agreement.