Digital Privacy

Trans-Atlantic Data Transfers at Risk

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Europe's top court may decide to halt data transfers to the United States.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    If Europe’s highest court decides that Americans do not protect European citizens’ privacy, several companies including Google and Facebook must change their entire business model.

  • Facts


    • A legal expert at the European Court of Justice said E.U. citizens’ data transfered to the United States is not secure in America due to surveillance practices.
    • The European Court of Justice usually follows opinions given by its legal experts, meaning it could halt trans-Atlantic data transfers.
    • The ruling is expected in a few months and could force a change in the law on how data is passed from Europe to America.
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A legal expert has warned that the Safe Harbor agreement, that allows companies to transfer data from Europe to the United States, may have to end.

The agreement allows tech companies such as Facebook and Google to send data across the Atlantic, with the understanding that the privacy of E.U citizens will be as protected in the United States as it is in Europe.

The principle was challenged in court by Austrian citizen Max Schrems, who complained about privacy issues related to his Facebook posts. The case is now with the European Court of Justice. Advocate general Yves Bot, who is advising the court on the case said Wednesday that the current agreement, Safe Harbor, does not protect E.U. citizens’ privacy.

Mr. Bot’s opinion, which also pleaded to empower national authorities in Europe to block trans-Atlantic data transfers, is not binding but Europe’s top court usually follows advice given by the expert, officially known as the Advocate General. The court itself is expected to rule on the matter in a few months.

Mr. Bot directly referred to Edward Snowden’s revelations on spying practices by the U.S. National Security Agency when arguing against the current practice of data transfers from the European Union to the United States.

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