EU-U.S. Data Transfer Pact Proves Elusive as Deadline Looms

  • EU's justice chief says ``additional effort'' is needed
  • Jourova speaks to EU lawmakers about progress in talks

The U.S. and European Union struggled to reach a new deal to facilitate trans-Atlantic data transfers amid marathon talks in Brussels, the EU’s justice chief said as a self-imposed deadline faces further delays.

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 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,” Jourova said.

Any deal would have to be endorsed at the highest possible political level, she said.

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 will speak with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker late Monday about remaining issues.

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