Share article:
Share article:

European Court ruling threatens EU-US data sharing

Campaigner Max Schrems in court to bring down the Safe Harbour Decision. © Josef Weidenholzer Wikimedia

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg (ECJ) has issued a ruling that could threaten the transfer of data on internet users in the European Union to major media companies in the United States.

In a case brought by Austrian privacy campaigner Max Schrems, the court overturned a decision made by the European Commission in 2016, which concerned the US alone.

Schrems first brought a complaint to the data protection authority in Ireland, alleging that his personal data as a Facebook user was being transferred to Facebook in the US for processing, without there being in place sufficient protection of privacy, as demanded by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a regulation for the protection of data shared with third countries.

The data protection authority rejected his complaint based on a decision of the Commission in 2000, known as the Safe Harbour Decision, which stated that the US had provided sufficient evidence that the data of EU users was adequately protected.

However Schrems went on to bring the case to the ECJ, where the Safe Harbour Decision was annulled on the grounds that the evidence provided by the US was insufficient to reach the conclusion the Commission reached.

The Irish data protection authority then asked Schrems to reformulate his complaint in the light of that ruling, and the case came back to the Irish court and from there to the ECJ.

While that was going on, the Commission took another decision, this one known as the Privacy Shield Decision, which again singled the US out as a safe pair of hands into which to deliver the data of EU users.

Now the ECJ has overturned that decision, ruling that the protections available to users within the EU, including safeguards against misuse of personal information and availability of legal recourse in the case of disputes, are not provided by the Privacy Shield, since the EU has no means to enforce the conditions.

However the ruling against the Privacy Shield Decision does not mean the end of data transfers from the EU to the US. At the same time, the court ruled that another provision of EU law, known as standard contractual clauses, can still allow company to company transfer of data.

But the court also stressed that privacy authorities have the right to suspend or cancel such clauses if protection of the data cannot be ensured. In the case of transfers to the US, that right has fallen into disuse since the Privacy Shield Decision was adopted in 2016.

It is likely that now the Privacy Shield has been taken down, users will demand more scrutiny of contractual clauses from their national authorities.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

Latest news

Anti-vaxxers demonstrate against Covid Safe Ticket in Brussels
Hundreds of supporters of the anti-vaxx movement gathered on Saturday outside the headquarters of the Pfizer pharmaceutical company to protest ...
Belgium’s investment funds total 260 billion euros in assets
Belgium’s funds industry grew by 5.3% (13 billion euros) in the second quarter of this year, bringing investment funds available to the public to ...
Brussels to Luxembourg by train in two hours soon possible
The fastest train ride between Brussels and Luxembourg currently takes almost three hours, but that could be slashed to about two hours thanks to the ...
Daily Covid infections up by almost 30% in Belgium
Between 6 and 12 October, an average of 2,438 people were infected with the Covid-19 virus every day, according to figures from the Sciensano public ...
Over 80,000 companies in Belgium non-compliant with anti-money laundering meassures
Over 80,000 companies and non-profits in Belgium are still not compliant with the Ultimate Business Owner (UBO) register, which is required of them ...
Increase in tax exemption for donations in Belgium fails to meet expectations
The increase from 45% to 60% in the tax exemption for donations, decided by the former federal government in June 2020, has cost Belgium more than ...
Sex workers in Belgium to get more social rights protection
The social rights of sex workers will soon be better protected in Belgium, Belga News Agency reports. The Council of Ministers has approved a draft ...
Belgian firms sent almost 266 billion euros to tax havens last year
Hundreds of Belgian firms sent close to 266 billion euros to tax havens last year, De Tijd reported on Saturday. Any Belgian individual or firm ...
Belgian investigator wins prestigious US prize
Olivier Hardy, an investigator with the federal police’s anti-terrorist unit in Brussels, DR3, received on Friday a "Top Cop" prize in Washington for ...
Pegasus Project: European Parliament awards journalism prize to investigation of use of spyware
The Daphne Caruana Prize for Journalism was awarded on Thursday to the journalists from the Pegasus Project coordinated by the Forbidden Stories ...
Belgians can now test their knowledge of driving rules and win prizes
The Walloon Road Safety Agency (AWSR) launched on Friday a quiz to allow the general public to test their knowledge of the highway code. Last year, ...
600 extras wanted for film about Belgian ‘Porn King’ and notorious Antwerp nightclub
A Belgian movie telling the story of a notorious Antwerp nightclub with connections to a Belgian 'Porn King' is looking for 600 extras at the end of ...