Deal urged on handing over personal data to US intelligence

Government plea as European court set to rule on data transfers between EU and US

Austrian activist Max Schrems: the case he brought is sensitive for Dublin because many US tech firms have European headquarters in Ireland. Photograph: Christian Bruna/AFP/Getty Images

Austrian activist Max Schrems: the case he brought is sensitive for Dublin because many US tech firms have European headquarters in Ireland. Photograph: Christian Bruna/AFP/Getty Images

 

The Government has urged the EU Commission and the US to quickly settle a new citizen data transfer deal. The intervention comes as Europe’s highest court prepares to rule on the legality of current data agreements.

Minister of State for Data Protection Dara Murphy said Brussels and Washington had no option but to ensure arrangements were made, regardless of the imminent European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling on the “Safe Harbour” scheme.

“I’m aware there are 13 areas of discussion about the current Safe Harbour agreement. I believe that in the vast majority of these agreement has already been reached,” Mr Murphy said.

Irish authorities

At issue is if it is legal – under EU law – for technology groups, such as Facebook, to give Europeans’ personal data to US intelligence agencies.

The commission is understood to be preparing an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss the ruling once it is issued.

The case, brought by Austrian activist Max Schrems, is highly sensitive for Dublin because Facebook and many other US tech companies, Google among them, have their European headquarters in Ireland and are regulated by the Irish data protection authorities.

In non-binding opinion last week, ECJ advocate general Yves Bot recommended a ruling that Safe Harbour was “invalid” and cast it as a breach of EU law and the fundamental right to data protection and privacy.

Mr Murphy, who spoke with ranking commission officials and the US ambassador to the EU Anthony Gardner yesterday, said the court ruling could not be prejudged.

“I would encourage both the commission and the US to ensure that, in either eventuality, irrespective of the outcome of the court case, there is in place an agreement to allow for a continuation of the transfer of data across the Atlantic,” he said.

“Half of the world’s data crosses the Atlantic, it is estimated.

“Europe and America have the potential, by agreeing standards, to set global standards. We already have many areas of course – including the inspection of airlines – whereby Europe trusts American regulatory systems.”

Contingencies

Asked whether it was sufficient for the commission to meet only after the ECJ rules, the Minister said: “My own view is that it’s always better to have contingencies in place before the outcome but, clearly, once the judgment comes in, to have a meeting immediately afterwards makes sense.”