USA and EU achieve breakthrough in data protection dispute | Science and technology news
The US and EU have celebrated a breakthrough in an ongoing battle over privacy standards during a visit by President Joe Biden to Europe to build transatlantic unity over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The transfer of data from European citizens to the US has been a contentious issue for years, particularly amid allegations of US intelligence agencies accessing foreigners’ data.
But the Russian invasion of Ukraine seems to have restarted discussions between Washington and Brussels.
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In a joint announcement on Friday morning, Mr Biden and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said they had “reached an agreement in principle on a new framework for transatlantic data traffic”.
“This is another step in strengthening our partnership,” said Ms. von der Leyen.
The announcement came as the two powers agreed on a new partnership that would reduce Europe’s dependence on Russia’s energy supplies.
President Biden claimed this dependency is being exploited by Russian President Vladimir Putin to “coerce and manipulate his neighbors” and that the funds provided are being used to “power his war machine.”
Politico, which reported on the upcoming data breach ahead of the announcement, said several EU and US officials dismissed the link between the deal and the invasion of Ukraine.
One of the officials stressed that “the fundamental problems of reaching an agreement are not going away because of the war in Ukraine.”
What is the problem?
Court cases (particularly two led by Austrian activist Max Schrems) have found that US and European data protection rules are incompatible, with a particular complaint concerning alleged mass surveillance by US security services, as described in revelations by the former National Security Agency Contractor Edward Snowden.
The question is whether European citizens who believe their data has been improperly obtained by American intelligence agencies have a legitimate avenue to take legal action.
A previous agreement to facilitate these transfers expired in 2020. While enforcement of this ban has not been consistent across the bloc, it has increased.
In response to the news, Caitlin Fennessy of the International Association of Privacy Professionals said people working in the privacy field “finally can breathe a sigh of relief.”
“They have been holding their breath for months at the lack of watertight data transfer compliance options, the borderless nature of internet-based services, and escalating enforcement,” she said.
“While we have yet to see the details, both sides appear to be working towards a permanent solution. If they wanted a temporary solution, they could have wrapped up talks months ago. Time will tell if they got there.”
With growing concerns about global internet fragmentation, this agreement will help keep people connected and services running. It provides invaluable security for American and European businesses of all sizes, including Meta, that rely on fast and secure data transfers. https://t.co/KYfqUM9XbH
— Nick Clegg (@nickclegg) March 25, 2022
The move was also welcomed by Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, whose advertising business relies on collecting massive amounts of data.
Sir Nick tweeted: “With growing concerns about global internet fragmentation, this agreement will help keep people connected and services running.
“It will provide invaluable security to American and European businesses of all sizes, including Meta, that rely on fast and secure data transmission.”