BRUSSELS (Alliance News) - The EU and the US are set to implement a new deal to protect transatlantic data flows, after the European Commission on Tuesday adopted the controversial agreement - to the dismay of critics who fear it is not stringent enough.
The new, so-called Privacy Shield aims to replace the Safe Harbor framework, which the EU's top court struck down last year as insufficient, after revelations in 2013 of mass spying by US intelligence authorities.
More than 4,000 firms had conducted transatlantic business using Safe Harbor, which had since 2000 regulated how businesses in the EU and the US share data. The court found that it did not fully safeguard the rights of EU citizens.
EU officials argue that Privacy Shield has been designed to prevent the indiscriminate collection of Europeans' private data, although there are national security exceptions to the deal.
"The Privacy Shield is fundamentally different from Safe Harbor," EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said. "It brings stronger data protection standards that are better enforced, safeguards on government access and easier redress for individuals."
"The sharing of data is driving growth in every sector," US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker added. "For consumers, the free flow of data means that you can take advantage of the latest, most innovative digital products and services, no matter where they originate."
The deal was welcomed by businesses, which were left in legal limbo by the Safe Harbor ruling. Microsoft vice president John Frank spoke of Privacy Shield being a "solid legal foundation," while Caroline Atkinson of Google said that "restoring trust in international data flows ... is crucial to continued growth in the digital economy."
But data protection authorities and campaigners have criticized the agreement, which is expected to be challenged before the European Court of Justice.
"Consumer redress mechanisms and the overall value and structure of the whole scheme remain as messy and complex as ever," Monique Goyens of the European consumer organization BEUC said in a statement.
Critics have also taken issue with the fact that the deal will not be enshrined in US law, resting instead on binding assurances.
"I don't think we would agree to anything like that if it comes to China. Like, if the Chinese government would send us a letter saying: 'We uphold fundamental rights, ... trust us.' I don't think anybody would believe that," Max Schrems, the Austrian whose lawsuit against Facebook brought down Safe Harbor, told journalists in Brussels.
"This agreement helps nobody at all," said Joe McNamee of European Digital Rights, an association of digital civil rights groups. "We now have to wait until the court again rules that the deal is illegal and then, maybe, the EU and US can negotiate a credible arrangement."
But Jourova and Pritzker both said they are convinced the new deal will stand up to legal scrutiny. Companies in the EU are supposed to freely share personal data only with jurisdictions that provide data privacy protections comparable to those within the bloc.
Companies can sign up to use Privacy Shield from August 1.