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European Parliament to vote on post PRISM privacy reforms, including scrapping the Safe Harbor scheme

- UK

An important European Parliamentary committee has published a post PRISM/Snowden inquiry report on US Internet surveillance which calls for the introduction of tough measures to protect EU citizens’ data privacy rights. For the thousands of companies which rely on the US Safe Harbor scheme to permit international data flows, alarmingly these measures include a call to scrap that scheme.

The report follows proposals by the European Commission on the reduction of US influence over Internet governance. Its focus, which will be subject to a vote in the European Parliament on 12 March, is a call for the US to implement measures to show greater respect to the data privacy rights of EU citizens and to suspend EU – US trade talks (the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal) if this is not done. The MEPs who drafted the report, also call for the separation of the discussions of data protection rules from the trade talks with the US, and the suspension of the Safe Harbor privacy principles that allow non-EU companies to transfer European data.

Closer to home, the report also urges EU member states to consider their laws and practices concerning the activities of intelligence services to make sure they are properly scrutinised.

James Mullock, a leader in European data protection and cyber law says:

“Coming hot on the heels of recent ultimatums from European politicians and German data regulators, the vote on 12th March is another sign of PRISM generated tension between the US and the EU’s law makers. Businesses will be affected and need to keep track of the outcome of the debate.

“So many European companies benefit from the Safe Harbor scheme that it seems hard to imagine that their politicians would really scrap it. That feels like a cutting off a nose to spite a face reaction. But the politicians are using a set of circumstances to take a course of action which ideologically they strongly believe in, so rational behaviour may not result.

“Anyone that uses or relies upon Safe Harbor should certainly now be reassessing whether it is fit for purpose or whether they should adopt other data transfer compliance mechanisms in case safe harbour is killed off.”

Read more about our privacy law team here.

*This article is current as of the date of its publication and does not necessarily reflect the present state of the law or relevant regulation.

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