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EU-US 'Safe Harbour' data agreement: BEUC comment

28 November 2013
by BEUC -- last modified 28 November 2013

The European Commission has identified 13 recommendations for change to the EU/US ‘Safe Harbour’ agreement on citizens’ personal data exchange for commercial purposes. For example, it encompasses data such as Passenger Name Records (PNR) on flights, personal data submitted when buying online and the use of Cloud Computing services by Europeans via servers within America’s jurisdiction. The US government will consider by June 2014. The Commission will then make a decision about Safe Harbour depending on the response by the US government.


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Director General of The European Consumer Organisation, Monique Goyens, commented:

 "The European Commission's report on the 'Safe Harbour' agreement confirms the longstanding concerns of consumer groups on both sides of the Atlantic. More than a decade after its establishment, the pact is riddled with problems.

"This agreement claims to reassure EU and US consumers when their personal data is exchanged for commercial purposes, but it has now been shown to retain only a fig-leaf of credibility. In practice, it is riven with false claims of membership, the process is not transparent and many signatories' lack even a privacy policy. In the wake of all this, there has been absence of effective enforcement by regulatory authorities over the years. Recent events have highlighted the obvious imprudence of poorly designed data exchange agreements. The question now will be: 'is Safe Harbour beyond repair?'

"The safety of European consumers' data needs to be paramount. Data flows must have a true harbour, not just a commercial port. US authorities may need to come to understand that Safe Harbour can no longer be used as a free pass for data exchange.

"The European Commission's 13 Recommendations are a welcome address of many of the issues. Better enforcement is crucial and we're glad to see that being examined. But the ability of companies to self-certify as offering 'Safe Harbour' is unjustifiable and remains inexplicably outside the review. It is hard to see the purpose of proceeding without tackling such basic flaws and perhaps the time has come to put the Safe Harbour agreement to one side and move on.

"This is the latest transatlantic regulatory tussle over personal data. Any attempt to revise how Europeans' data flows to US companies must fall in line with the separate, overarching EU personal data law review. Otherwise this is merely a map for traders to deviate from fundamental EU privacy rights."

BEUC, The European Consumer Organisation has a membership of 41 well respected, independent national consumer organisations from 31 European countries (EU, EEA and applicant countries). BEUC acts as the umbrella group in Brussels for these organisations and our main task is to represent our members and defend the interests of all Europe's consumers.

BEUC, the European Consumers' Organisation