The U.S.-EU and Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield programs are under new direction, but their new leader is more than familiar with the mechanism for cross-border data transfers. New Privacy Shield Director Alex Greenstein, who was hired by the U.S. Department of Commerce July 8, has been linked to the programs in one way or another since 2015.
Most recently, Greenstein served as the U.S. Department of State’s coordinator for communications and internet policy, which involved responsibilities related to the Privacy Shield. He also helped implement the framework in 2016 and oversaw its negotiation in 2015 while working in government roles for the U.S.
“I’m really excited and honored to have the opportunity to come here, take over and lead this program,” Greenstein said. “This is a very important framework for the United States and Europe. It’s something that I’ve had some experience with in the past, but I’m definitely coming at this from a very humble place.”
Being involved in Privacy Shield’s growth and development undoubtedly helped Greenstein’s candidacy. He knows what it took for the framework to come together and replace the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor framework while also understanding the challenges endured during the implementation processes thereafter.
“This program demonstrates the strength of the transatlantic relationship in terms of both the digital economy and also our cooperation on privacy,” Greenstein said. “It was a difficult time negotiating this agreement, but it was a very positive and mutual learning experience. It’s been a good mechanism for demonstrating the seriousness with which the U.S. takes privacy and our commitment to fulfilling the framework with the Europeans.”
While the prior history works to Greenstein’s favor, he understands that keeping Privacy Shield relevant and strong takes more than background knowledge. The strengthening starts with Greenstein’s staff, which he said has made his transition seamless.
“I’ve been sitting down with the Privacy Shield staff and learning what they’re focused on so I can absorb it all as I settle in,” Greenstein said. “I want us to continue doing the best job we can to implement this program and provide as much value as possible to U.S. companies and European individuals, including great benefits for both prosperity and privacy.”
For Greenstein, achieving goals means “walking the walk” in terms of his office following through on its words with appropriate and responsible actions. That mentality will be key as Greenstein and his staff plan for their annual review on Sept. 12-13.
“Our last review was October 2018 so we’ll look back at that and identify what we discussed while identifying what we should focus on moving forward,” Greenstein said. “It’s something you have to do as a requirement, but it does act as a nice focusing mechanism to get us in sync on how the framework is doing.”
Greenstein added that the review will have multiple focuses, including a look into proactive measures to improve processes that will help increase the number of Privacy Shield participants, which Greenstein said currently stands at approximately 4,800.
Greenstein’s post will not come without challenges. Specifically, his office will have to address any rulings the Court of Justice of the European Union hands down in Max Schrems’ case regarding U.S.-EU data transfers.
“We’re closely monitoring the Schrems II litigation and its potential impacts on Privacy Shield and standard contractual clauses,” Greenstein said. “The U.S. government has participated in those hearings and part of that means demonstrating that we take these commitments very seriously and that we’re positively fulfilling them. I think that’s very important because people are watching, the court is watching and others are too. It’s very important, from the very basic certification transaction all the way up through the annual review, that we work to demonstrate that we are fully walking the walk.”
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