US and Europe race to agree data-sharing deal

The 15-year-old 'safe harbour' pact between the US and EU allowed American companies to import the personal data of Europeans

European and US negotiators are scrambling to meet today’s deadline to reach a new data-sharing agreement that could save business millions in extra fees for privacy protection.

The two sides have been working on the deal since last October, when the European Union’s top court struck down the 15-year-old “safe harbour” pact between the US and EU allowing American companies to import the personal data of Europeans. Businesses warn that a lack of a deal could stall vital data flows in everything from banking to e-commerce.

More than 4,500 firms signed up to safe harbour, which is essential for tech giants such as Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google to transfer data across the Atlantic. But European regulators were unsettled by the revelations of former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden on widespread data trawling by US intelligence services.

The European Court of Justice ruling followed Mr Snowden’s revelations. 

The EU’s head negotiator, Giovanni Buttarelli, said he was confident that a political deal could be hammered out in time, but warned that a final deal with the appropriate legal basis could take months.

If the negotiators succeed, the proposals will be sent to the EU’s national data-protection regulators, who meet in Brussels tomorrow. The regulators could demand greater powers to monitor data access and handle complaints.

Hopes of a deal were boosted last week when the US Senate Committee on the Judiciary voted on new rules that would give Europeans similar rights to Americans to sue in US courts over data-privacy breaches.

The remaining stumbling block concerns transparency and oversight of data transfers and privacy protections. EU officials say the US has not yet provided enough information on the way it collects data for intelligence purposes.

 Robert Litt, counsel for the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence, insisted on Friday that Washington had explained “in great detail” the legal framework concerning the national security services, including oversight.

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