Privacy compromises mean we'll soon be back in court
Published 03/02/2016 | 02:30
"Trust us, we have this sorted." That appears to be what the European Commission is saying with its new transatlantic data privacy deal, the robustly-named 'EU-US Privacy Shield' agreement.
Do they have it sorted, though? Some key questions have not been answered.
For example, does the deal mean that US spies won't dragnet EU citizens' personal emails and online messages as they have been doing? It's highly unlikely. EU Commissioners talk of "commitments" from US politicians and trade officials that American agencies will "respect" European private data. They even claim that US government bodies won't "indiscriminately" apply surveillance to EU citizens' data.
But they don't go as far as to say that the type of activities revealed by Edward Snowden under America's infamous 'Prism' data-collecting program will cease. They don't mention the CIA or the NSA.
And that is what got us all into this mess in the first place. The European Court of Justice drew a line in the sand on this stuff last year. It ruled that because our Gmail, Facebook and Instagram accounts are being swept up by US authorities in the name of their own 'security', Europe has to enforce the privacy rights of its online citizens, even if it means restricting transatlantic data flows.
It's very hard to say that the European Commission has solved this basic conflict in the new agreement.
The upshot is that when this agreement - which is still at least three months from being law - is challenged in Ireland or any other European country, it will likely go back before the European Court Of Justice. And can anyone see that court changing its mind on the basics of the matter?
All that said, why has the agreement been unveiled and positioned as a breakthrough?
In truth, the Commission is under severe pressure to come up with some sort of deal.
Not because of privacy, but because of industry. European law was about to close in on multinationals that depend on transatlantic data flows. That was an awful vista for the Commission.