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Europe Data Protection Digest | Notes from the IAPP Europe Managing Director, 2 December 2016 Related reading: NIST launches development of 'privacy framework' in Austin

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It has been something of a long time coming, but the big data protection news in Brussels today regards the vote yesterday by Parliament to approve the EU-U.S. Umbrella Agreement, agreed initially back in June by the Commission and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, which outlines the way personal data exchanged for law-enforcement purposes must be handled on both sides of the pond.

Indeed, writes Jan Philipp Albrecht, the Green MEP who led the examination of the deal, “In future, there will finally be high, binding standards and strong rights for citizens on both sides of the Atlantic when data are exchanged between police and law enforcement agencies.” He also notes the deal is the result of six years of negotiations — no easy task.

However, the deal comes not without criticism. Both the ALDE and GUE groups sought to have the Umbrella Agreement examined by the Court of Justice of the European Union before going forward, but their efforts were voted by the full Parliament. Considering pending cases against Privacy Shield and the Schrems case regarding model clauses, they may have had a point.

Further, ALDE lead MEP Sophie in ’t Veld has pointed out repeatedly that the deal is only valid should the U.S. follow through on eliminating certain exemptions to the U.S. Privacy Act of 1974, which governs the way the U.S. federal government handles citizen data. Why,  in ’t Veld asked openly in a series of Twitter posts, should the EU trust a Trump administration to follow through on Obama administration promises? She also points to doubts expressed by the Article 29 Working Party and the European Parliament legal service.

However, it is hard to say that Albrecht, who shepherded through the General Data Protection Regulation, is not, himself, a champion for proper privacy protections. And he could not be more enthusiastic: “We are raising data protection with the USA to a new level. Citizens’ fundamental rights will be better protected than they are by mere mutual recognition of today’s low standards.”

As with any of these agreements, we will of course have to wait and see how things play out. Indeed, it’s hard to know how the Trump administration will view any of these data protection issues that have been so arduously examined by both the EU and U.S. over the few years. Are they a necessary enabler of global business? Or are they burdensome regulation? He has famously said he will look anew at all global trade deals — will Shield and the Umbrella be among them?

At some point after Jan. 21, we’ll find out.  

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