EU data watchdog skeptical of US commitment to Privacy Shield

20 April 2017. By Vesela Gladicheva and Mike Swift.

Five months before the EU-US "Privacy Shield" faces a crucial first test, the EU's chief data protection watchdog said Wednesday that the recent rollback of US privacy rules for Internet service providers has left him more skeptical that the Trump administration is serious about meeting its obligations in the trans-Atlantic data transfer agreement.

Speaking to reporters during a global privacy conference in Washington,* European Data Protection Supervisor Giovanni Buttarelli said a recent vote by Congress to roll back the ISP privacy rules that were passed last year by the Federal Communications Commission "is one of the … signals that I fail to fully understand" about the new administration's commitment to protecting privacy. President Donald Trump signed the bill finalizing the FCC privacy rollback this month.

The Privacy Shield provides companies on both sides of the Atlantic with a mechanism to comply with data protection requirements when transferring personal data between Europe and the United States. The European Commission and the US Department of Commerce will carry out a first annual review of the Privacy Shield in September to analyze whether it is working properly.

The commission could suspend or repeal the agreement following the review.

Buttarelli said that the US implementation of the trans-Atlantic data transfer agreement "is far from being satisfactory. There are a few areas of concern where we really need some good signals" from US regulators. Buttarelli said that the Trump administration should prioritize the appointment of officials to enforce the Privacy Shield accord.

Maureen Ohlhausen, acting chairman of the US Federal Trade Commission, reiterated Wednesday that the US needs the Privacy Shield agreement to succeed because of the importance of digital trade between the US and Europe.

New oversight

The Privacy Shield agreement requires a new independent US ombudsperson who will oversee how US intelligence authorities comply with the mechanism. The accord will be enforced in the US by the FTC.

Buttarelli urged the Trump administration to swiftly appoint people to roles related to the Privacy Shield to help give companies legal certainty.

"It is essential that middle- and high-level managers in the relevant administrations are appointed soon," he said, acknowledging that new administrations take their time making some appointments.

"With regard to Privacy Shield, this is not standard business," he said. "The daily life of thousands and thousands of companies is now suspended because of the limbo."

US President Donald Trump took office in late January.

Buttarelli also said the review of the Privacy Shield later this year should put EU and US officials on an equal footing.

"The joint review should be joint, not just where European experts are in front of nice slides where we are reassured on the right direction," Buttarelli said.

*IAPP Global Privacy Summit 2017. Washington, DC. April 17-20, 2017.

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