• Data protection watchdogs call on EU to solve concerns
  • Privacy Shield still needs formal adoption by EU regulator

European Union privacy watchdogs refused to give their full backing to a new trans-Atlantic data transfer pact, asking the bloc’s executive authority to avoid ratifying the deal before solving an array of remaining concerns.

“There is still work to do and we urge the European Commission to solve these concerns” regarding the use of data for commercial and for public security purposes “before the final decision is taken,” Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, head of the group of EU data protection watchdogs, told reporters in Brussels Wednesday.

The EU and U.S. were forced back to the drawing board after the bloc’s top court in October annulled a “safe-harbor” accord dating back to 2000 for failing 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. The new deal, which still needs to be formally approved, seeks to address concerns that American spies had unfettered access to private data on European citizens.

Robust Protection

The pact, called the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, will provide citizens with robust data protection and the right to judicial review, the EU said when it managed to clinch a last-minute agreement with the U.S. in February. The privacy watchdogs from the 28-nation EU, grouped in the so-called Article 29 Working Party, vowed to scrutinize the draft deal “with great attention.”

The data protection authorities said Wednesday they will wait for the commission’s final decision, expected in June, before taking further steps. It’s also “too early” to decide on the security of other types of data transfer tools companies were forced to switch after the Safe Harbor decision was annulled, they said.

“Until we have the final decision of the commission, we still have a situation of legal uncertainty,” said Falque-Pierrotin.

The EU data protection regulators are “basically sending the European Commission back to the drawing board on essential elements of the Privacy Shield,” said Wim Nauwelaerts, managing partner at law firm Hunton & Williams in Brussels.

“The U.S. authorities will probably not be keen to reopen negotiations on those elements. Even if they do, it looks unlikely that the shield will be up and running early June,” he said.

Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said Wednesday she welcomed the EU privacy panel’s “thorough analysis.”

“I count on data protection authorities also in the future to help ensure that the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield works well in practice,” she said.

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