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US, EU told to resolve Safe Harbour or face dire consequences

In response to the turmoil that erupted following last October’s decision by the European Court that the EU-US Safe Harbour agreement was invalid, four business groups that represent some of the world largest technology companies have told the US and the EU to reach an agreement on data flows between the two regions.

The concept of Safe Harbour goes to the very fundamentals of cloud data storage and social media for EU privacy and laws outlaw the storage of European citizens data out of the EU, unless it is to a location with adequate privacy protection in line with EU standards.

The Safe Harbour agreement (2000) was designed to mitigate this legal technicality and to allow web scale companies like Facebook, Apple and Microsoft to operate in Europe yet store European citizens detail in the US. This was a bilateral agreement and UK companies felt secure in the knowledge that they could store their data in a ‘Safe Harbour’ in the US, free from any snooping and invasion of privacy.

Unfortunately for the Safe Harbour concept, suspicions regarding the USA’s commitment to citizens' privacy have been around since the early 2000’s, especially with the growth of the homeland security and the NSA.

Patrick Van Eecke, co-head of the global privacy practice DLA Piper said: “The advantage of Safe Harbour was that it functioned as a kind of ‘one stop shop’ allowing for the export of personal data to the US, whoever in Europe it came from, without the need to ask for consent, or to enter into bilateral agreements, over and over again.”

Unfortunately after the whistleblower Snowden’s revelations regarding the dubious and down-right illegal activities of the NSA, the EU court of justice has felt it can no longer consider the US to have privacy laws that are in line with the EU – therefore invalidating the Safe Harbour agreement.

This is extremely worrying for businesses on both sides of the atlantic, and this concern was the driver for Business Europe, the US Chamber of Commerce, Digital Europe and the Information Technology Industry Councils, to address a letter to president Obama the president of the European Commission, and the president of the European Council, urging them to resolve this issue or face dire financial consequences.

Image Credit: Flickr/Sébastien Bertrand