Oct. 1 — The European Union's incoming commissioner with responsibility for data protection Oct. 1 said she would press for rapid completion of the bloc's data protection overhaul and would “not make any concession” in discussions with the U.S. on protecting privacy in the transfer of EU citizens' data for law enforcement purposes.
At a confirmation hearing in front of three European Parliament committees, former Czech Regional Development Minister Vera Jourová added that possible release to the U.S. National Security Agency of data transferred by companies to the U.S. under the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Program is “the most complex topic I have ever encountered.”
Assuming the European Parliament approves her, Jourová will Nov. 1 become the EU commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality at the European Commission, the EU's administrative arm. That role includes frontline responsibility for the data protection overhaul effort and Safe Harbor negotiations.
The EU data protection overhaul was launched by former EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding, who in January 2012 put forward a general data protection regulation to replace the 1995 EU Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC).
In March, the European Parliament approved the proposed data protection regulation (49 Privacy Law Watch, 3/13/14)(13 PVLR 444, 3/17/14). But the approval process has been bogged down during negotiations at the European Council of the 28 EU member states.
Jourová gave no details but said she would push for negotiations on the changes to be completed within six months, as requested by Juncker.
The U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Program is a framework that allows over 3,000 U.S. companies to transfer to the U.S. the personal data of EU citizens, on the basis that the transfers are done in accordance with privacy principles similar to those contained in the Data Protection Directive.
The viability of the program has been questioned by EU officials in light of revelations about the scope of the NSA's surveillance activities. Efforts to negotiate amendments to the program have been underway since fall 2013 (240 Privacy Law Watch, 12/13/13)(12 PVLR 2104, 12/16/13).
On negotiations with the U.S. on Safe Harbor, Jourová said she had “strong doubts” that Safe Harbor was really safe, but said it would be “irresponsible” to suspend or cancel the program.
“I would like to continue this discussion and conduct a thorough analysis of whether or not this system is safe,” Jourová said.
Jourová also gave limited answers on EU-U.S. negotiations that have been ongoing since 2011 to establish an umbrella agreement that would govern transfers of data for law enforcement purposes (10 PVLR 519, 4/4/11).
Jourová said that in the negotiations she wouldn't make any concessions on EU fundamental rights, including the right to privacy, which she said “can't be questioned.”
She added that data transfer to U.S. agencies that want to use data “in a kind of preventative manner” is a “very complex question.”
The main outstanding issue for the EU in data transfer for law enforcement purposes is that EU citizens should have a right of legal redress in the U.S. EU and U.S. officials in June claimed to be making progress on the redress issue (123 Privacy Law Watch, 6/26/14)(13 PVLR 1171, 6/30/14).
Jourová’s appointment, along with those of Juncker's other commissioners-designate, must be approved by a vote of the European Parliament on a date to be decided.
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An archived webcast of the European Parliament hearing on Vera Jourová is available at http://www.elections2014.eu/en/new-commission/hearing/20140918HEA65206.
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