US, EU advance talks to preserve data transfers

BRUSSELS — US and European Union officials make progress to keep data flowing across the Atlantic, say people familiar with negotiations that are vital to Facebook Inc.

and thousands of other businesses.

In talks that will continue next week in Brussels after a round in the US this summer, both sides hope to avoid an interruption in corporate data transfers by resolving a long-standing conflict between strict EU laws. on privacy protection and US surveillance measures.

A US delegation, led by National Security Council officials and including other branches, will meet with EU officials to reach agreement on terms for businesses to continue to store and access personal information on Europeans on American soil, according to people familiar with the matter.

Talks are expected to continue after the Brussels negotiations, the people said.

Among the main areas of discussion, creating ways to give Europeans effective means to challenge US government surveillance, the people said.

The two sides “are working together to advance our commitment to privacy, protect data and prevent disruption that would harm American businesses and families here at home,” said a White House official.

Any progress would be a relief for thousands of multinational companies, especially the big tech companies. An EU court ruling last summer restricted how businesses can send personal information about Europeans to the United States, in part because the court found Europeans had no effective legal remedy in the USA.

Last fall, the Irish privacy regulator published Facebook, which is headquartered in Dublin, a draft order to suspend its transfers of European user data to the United States, citing the court decision. Facebook lost a procedural challenge to block finalization of that order earlier this year, but continues to argue before the Irish privacy regulator that it is complying with the EU court ruling.

Facebook, which has its European headquarters in Dublin, has warned that its operations in Europe could be affected if it were to stop sending user data to the United States


Artur Widak / NurPhoto / Zuma Press

The company warned in the securities filings that unless the EU and US reach an agreement, enforcement of the draft Irish order could render it “unable to operate significant parts of our business. activities in Europe “.

“How data can flow around the world remains of paramount importance to thousands of European and American businesses that connect customers, friends, family and employees across the Atlantic,” a Facebook spokesperson said. , adding that the company provides appropriate safeguards for user data.

Legal experts have said the logic of the Irish draft ordinance could apply to other large tech companies subject to US surveillance laws, such as cloud services and email providers, which could cause widespread disruption of transatlantic data flows. Billions of dollars in business are potentially at stake in cloud computing, social media and advertising.

Portugal’s privacy regulator in April ordered the national statistics agency to stop sending census data to the United States, where it was being processed by Cloudflare Inc.

Confidentiality concerns have obstructed trade relations between Europe and the United States since the late 1990s. Under EU law, information about Europeans can only be sent abroad if the country where they are sent is deemed to offer the same level of protection as the EU. The United States never made this cut, but to keep data flows alive, the EU made a special deal with the United States two decades ago to allow businesses to continue sending data. if they opt for a program of application of the principles of confidentiality of the EU, enforced by the United States. Federal Trade Commission.

In 2015, this agreement, dubbed Safe Harbor, was struck down by the EU’s highest court because US surveillance laws would expose Europeans’ data stored on US soil. The EU and US struck a replacement deal in 2016, but last year the same court also quashed that deal and also questioned the ability of companies to use a special type of contract to promise to adhere to EU privacy principles, which many companies rely on as a safeguard.

It is not clear what concessions or legal rights US negotiators might be willing to give Europeans in next week’s talks, or whether the offer would be in line with what officials from both countries expect to be. third EU legal challenge. Some attorneys have said resolving the issue may require changes to U.S. surveillance laws.

Write to Sam Schechner at [email protected] and Daniel Michaels at [email protected]

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