Safe Harbour: EU-US data transfer talks still deadlocked

Almost four months since European Court of Justice deemed Safe Harbour pact invalid


EU and US officials remained locked in negotiations yesterday in a bid to seek agreement on a new data transfer deal, after a January 31st deadline on a new framework for transatlantic data transfers passed without agreement.

Almost four months after the European Court of Justice deemed the Safe Harbour agreement governing data transfer between the EU and US invalid, negotiators on both sides of the Atlantic have been trying to hammer out a deal.

But despite intensive talks over the past few weeks and through the weekend, negotiators failed to reach agreement. EU sources said that the main obstacle was the issue of US intelligence services’ access to data relating to European Union citizens which has been transferred to US companies.

Irish officials have intensified contacts with the European Commission and the US over the last few days. Minister for Data Protection Dara Murphy travelled to Brussels last Wednesday for talks with US ambassador Anthony Gardner on the issue, and was in contact with the US embassy in Dublin throughout the day yesterday.


Vera JourovaPenny PritzkerEuropean Parliament

European Commission officials, who have been leading negotiations on the file, said that talks on a replacement to the 15 year-old agreement had been “difficult” over the weekend.

“There have been constructive but difficult talks over the weekend,” a European Commission spokesman said yesterday. “Work is still ongoing, we are not there yet, but the commission is working day and night on achieving a deal.”

Data protection commissioners from across the European Union – including Irish data protection commissioner Helen Dixon – are due in Brussels today and Wednesday for the regular meeting of the so-called ‘Article 29’ group. While technically they could grant negotiators a grace period in which to agree a deal, should no agreement be reached in the coming days they could discuss the possibility of curbing data flow on a national basis.

Minister for Data Protection Dara Murphy said it was now vital that an agreement to replace Safe Harbour was put in place.

“There is no Plan B,” he said. “It’s vital that the world’s two largest economic blocs, who are already aspiring to the TTIP agreement, ensure that the transfer of data across the Atlantic is underwritten by a replacement for Safe Harbour.” Though noting that the areas left to be finalised between the two sides had greatly reduced, he said it was vital that a sound agreement was reached.

“The European Commission is absolutely bound by the very clear judgment of the European Court of Justice.

One has to assume at some point that a replacement to Safe Harbour could be tested, so the aspirations of the court and the rights of citizens have to be addressed within that context as part of a new agreement.”



The European Court of Justice ruling in October arose from a case taken by Austrian privacy campaigner, Max Schrems, against the Irish authorities.

Last week, Digital Rights Ireland launched court proceedings against the Irish government and Irish data protection commissioner Helen Dixon.