Viviane Reding: Future of the Safe Harbour Agreement in the light of the NSA affair

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We have had the opportunity to debate the implication of the NSA revelations this summer on several occasions, both in this Chamber and in the LIBE Committee.  These exchanges have been very useful, and I am looking forward to seeing the important conclusions of the LIBE inquiry Committee.  It is essential to speak with one voice to our US partners and to ensure that the protection of data protection rights of EU citizens is properly addressed in the US debate.  The exchanges and meetings of the Commission with the US authorities, the visits of delegations of this Parliament to the US and the work done with Member States in the EU-US Ad hoc expert group have all been opportunities to highlight our common concerns.

We all agree on the need to rebuild trust in our transatlantic relationship and in transatlantic data transfers.  Safe Harbour is an important arrangement in this context. It deals with the transfer of personal data from the EU to companies in the U.S. The aim of this scheme put in place in 2000 was to make sure that our rights are protected at all times according to EU standards, while securing the business advantages which flow from the ability to transfer personal data to the US for processing there.  The Commission is addressing the deficiencies in the Safe Harbour. As requested by the European Parliament, we have analysed the Safe Harbour regime and on 27 November, we issued our analysis and were clear that we must make Safe Harbour safer.  As a result of a lack of transparency and enforcement on the US side, some companies do not, in practice, comply with the scheme. This has a negative impact on individuals’ rights. And it may create an unfair competitive advantage for those companies in relation to European companies operating on the same market.  We are also taking seriously the risk that Safe Harbour, as a conduit for transfers of personal data, facilitates access to such data by US national security authorities under large scale surveillance programmes.  While the Safe Harbour decision allows limitations of protection when justified by national security, they must comply with the principles of proportionality and necessity.

Massive collection of data by the authorities on anybody, without suspicion goes beyond what is proportionate and necessary. I made it very clear to the US partners that this issue needs to be addressed in a satisfactory manner if we want to ensure the continuity of the scheme. Here to read more.

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