• EU's justice chief says deal `close' but more effort needed
  • Jourova speaks to EU lawmakers about progress in talks

The U.S. and European Union failed to seal a new deal to facilitate data transfers as regulators threatened to impose tight restrictions on how technology giants and thousands of multinational companies move information across the Atlantic.

While negotiators are “close” to an agreement, “an additional effort is needed,” EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova told the European Parliament’s civil liberties and justice committee in Strasbourg, France on Monday. The EU had targeted a deal by Tuesday, to coincide with a meeting of national privacy officials.

The EU and U.S. were forced back to the drawing board after the EU’s top judges said in October an accord dating back to 2000 failed to offer safeguards to EU citizens when U.S.-based companies such as social media giant Facebook Inc. process personal data on customers, from billing information to the content of messages.

“I will not hide that these talks have not been easy,” Jourova said, adding that fellow EU commissioners will discuss the possible new system at a regular meeting Tuesday. “There is such a big volume of data being transferred from the EU to the U.S. that we need to seek a new but much safer arrangement.”

EU negotiators have over the last few days stressed that any new deal will likely be challenged in court again. They won’t accept anything that isn’t “robust,” she said.

“We need commitments by the U.S. that are formal and binding,” said Jourvoa. “As this will not be an international agreement, but an exchange of letters, we need signatures at highest political level and publication of the commitments in the Federal Register.”

“We have to take this decision, which will be built on trust” and that will require “continuous checks,” Jourova said about one of the EU requirements. If a new system is in place and doesn’t work, “I am ready to propose the suspension of such system.”

The EU court toppled the old safe harbor following a campaign by Austrian privacy activist Max Schrems.

He said on Twitter that the possible system that Jourova outlined would be “a nightmare for companies. This seems like absolutely no legal certainty whatsoever.”

The initial “safe harbor”’ agreement, drafted in the pre-9/11 days, was designed to facilitate trade by allowing U.S. companies with activities in Europe to shift information between their sites. Companies could transfer data, provided they adhered to a list of principles designed to ensure privacy isn’t breached.

Jourova said she would speak with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker late Monday about remaining issues.

While using the banned safe harbor wasn’t the only way to transfer information legally, the clamor for a deal on the new pact intensified after national privacy regulators threatened to examine the contract clauses that companies rushed to put in place as a workaround following the October ruling.

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