Q & A: What is 'Privacy Shield'?
Published 13/07/2016 | 02:30
Q: What is 'Privacy Shield'?
A: It's an agreement between the EU and the US over the transfer of data between the two trading blocs. Specifically, it's aimed at protecting EU citizens' personal data rights, as we have a higher standard of legal protection for our personal data than US citizens.
Q: Wasn't there already an agreement taking care of that?
A: Yes, it was called the 'Safe Harbour' agreement. But last year, the European Court of Justice struck it down. It said that US authorities' blanket surveillance activities (as revealed in the Edward Snowden whistleblower revelations) were not compatible with EU citizens' personal data rights.
Q: Why is this whole thing seen as such a big deal?
A: Because 'Privacy Shield', like 'Safe Harbour' before it, is seen as the main legal instrument for companies to transfer data between the EU and the US. Without it in place, data regulators could potentially stop companies from engaging in business activities that involved the transfer of EU citizen data to the US. That obviously has huge ramifications for banks and tech multinationals like Google and Facebook.
Q: So what's different about this new 'Privacy Shield' agreement?
A: The European Commission, which has negotiated the new agreement with US authorities, says it has more safeguards for EU citizens' data privacy. A new US ombudsman is to be appointed that will be independent from national security services. EU citizens can make enquiries and complaints directly to this ombudsman's office. In addition, the US Director of National Intelligence has given written promises that "indiscriminate mass surveillance" on data transferred under the Privacy Shield arrangement won't happen. This will be continually reviewed by US and EU authorities.
Q: So does this solve the issue?
A: Possibly not. Most commentators say that a further challenge is possible as the new agreement isn't tight enough for European standards. European data protection bodies -- including Ireland's Helen Dixon - have questioned the independence of the proposed new US ombudsman.