Lords to scrutinise Commission proposals to enhance EU/US safe harbour for data protection

10 March 2014

The House of Lords Home Affairs, Health and Education EU Sub-Committee will this week begin enhanced scrutiny on two European Commission Communications published in November 2013 concerning data flows between Europe and the United States.

Safe harbour is the name given to the framework developed by the US Department of Commerce and the European Commission that allows the differences in EU and US approaches to their respective citizen’s privacy to be bridged, and enables US organisations to comply with the EU Directive on Data Protection. 

In the wake of revelations that large-scale US intelligence collection programmes had been abused, including allegations that the United States had been eavesdropping on the private phone calls of world leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Communication focuses on rebuilding trust in EU-US data flows. 

It proposes a number of actions, including strengthening safe harbour provisions rather than revoking the Decision, and strengthening data protection safeguards on the transfer and processing of personal information in police and judicial cooperation.

The European Parliament LIBE Committee’s report recommended that the European Commission should suspend the safe harbour principles and re-negotiate new, appropriate data protection standards, and urged the EU’s executive arm to suspend the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP) deal with the US until after a “thorough investigation” has been carried out to restore trust in the agreement.

Both Commission documents are to be considered during the Committee’s enhanced scrutiny sessions. 

The Committee will begin their enhanced scrutiny on Wednesday 12 March at 11am, by questioning:

  • Phil Lee, Privacy and Information Law Group, Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP;
  • Chris Connolly, privacy advocate and researcher, Galexia;  
  • Casper Bowden, independent privacy expert, former Chief Privacy Adviser for Microsoft Europe; and
  • Professor Charles Raab, Edinburgh University.

The Committee will discuss issues including the main strengths and weaknesses of the current safe harbour agreement, whether the present compliance arrangements are adequate and if the Commission’s proposed changes go far enough, and how concerns about exploitation of the national security exception might be addressed, particularly in the light of reactions to the US mass surveillance programmes. 

The evidence session will take place on Wednesday 12 March at 11am in Committee Room 3.

The session will be webcast at www.parliamentlive.tv and is also open to the public. Journalists wishing to attend should go to Parliament’s Cromwell Green Entrance and should allow time for security screening.

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