European Court of Justice rules Safe Harbour agreement invalid

The decision by the ECJ came after Edward Snowden revealed that European consumers’ information held by American tech companies was not safeguarded against surveillance

  • Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

Edward Snowden, NSA contractor and whistle-blower, shocked the world when he revealed that European consumers' information held by American tech companies was not safeguarded against surveillance

The judgement has no doubt left many US companies fearful of facing a bureaucratic nightmare, with them forced to comply with individual member states data regulators now that Safe Harbour agreement has been ruled invalid.

Luckily for them, the EU Commission remains optimistic that data transfers between the two countries will continue.

“Today’s judgment by the Court is an important step towards upholding Europeans’ fundamental rights to data protection,” explained the First Vice-President Frans Timmermans during a press conference. “The Court confirms the need of having robust data protection safeguards in place before transferring citizens’ data. I see this as a confirmation of the European Commission’s approach for the renegotiation of the Safe Harbour.

Despite the ruling, the EU Commission emphasised its commitment to data transfers with the US

“We have already been working with the American authorities to make data transfers safer for European citizens. In the light of the ruling, we will continue this work towards a renewed and safe framework for the transfer of personal data across the Atlantic.

“In the meantime, transatlantic data flows between companies can continue using other mechanisms for international transfers of personal data available under EU data protection law,” he added.

For now, the EU Commission has pledged that it will work with member state data protection authorities in order to find a way of dealing with data transfer requests to the US, now that the ECJ has ruled the Safe Harbour agreement invalid.

This should, for the time being at least, provide EU citizens with the necessary protection they need, while avoiding compliance issues for US companies.

“We have three priorities,” said EU Commissioner Vera Jourová. “First, we have to guarantee that EU citizens’ data are protected by sufficient safeguards when they are transferred. Then, it is important that transatlantic data flows can continue, as they are the backbone of our economy. Finally, we will work together guidance with national Data protection authorities to ensure a coordinated response on alternative ways to transfer data. This is important for European businesses.”

“We will also continue our discussions with the US. Let me remind you that following the Snowden revelations in 2013, the Commission had identified the shortcomings of the Safe Harbour arrangement and had made 13 concrete recommendations on how to make the Safe Harbour safer,” he added.

Despite the ruling, the EU Commission emphasised its commitment to data transfers with the US and is working to outline the shortcomings of the Safe Harbour agreement.