Privacy Shield Hearing

The focus was on how the U.S. and EU can reach agreement on an arrangement that will not be struck down by the EU’s highest court.

Last week, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a hearing on the now invalidated European Union (EU)-United States (U.S.) Privacy Shield, a mechanism that allowed companies to transfer the personal data of EU residents to the U.S. The EU’s highest court struck down the adequacy decision that underpinned the system on the basis of U.S. surveillance activities and lack of redress that violated EU law. This is the second time in the decade the EU’s top court has invalidated a transfer arrangement, the first being the Safe Harbor system. Given the estimated billions, or even trillions, of dollars in value realized from data flows between the EU and U.S. there is keen interest on both sides of the Atlantic in finding a legal path forward. However, absent significant curtailment of U.S. surveillance and/or a significant expansion of the means by which EU nationals could have violations of their rights rectified, it would appear a third agreement may not withstand the inevitable legal challenges. Moreover, there are questions as to the legality of other transfer tools in light of the Court of Justice for the European Union’s decision in the case known as Schrems II, and the legality of some Standard Contractual Clauses (SCC) and Binding Corporate Rules (BCR) may be soon be found in violation, too.

Consequently, a legislative fix, or some portion thereof, could be attached to federal privacy legislation. Hence, the striking down of Privacy Shield may provide additional impetus to Congress and the next Administration to reach a deal on privacy. Moreover, the lapsed reauthorization of some Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authorities may be another legislative opportunity for the U.S. to craft an approach amendable to the EU in order to either obtain an adequacy decision or a successor agreement to the Privacy Shield.

Chair Roger Wicker (R-MS) approached the issue from the perspective of international trade and the economic benefit accruing to businesses on both sides of the Atlantic. His opening remarks pertained less to the privacy and surveillance aspects of the CJEU’s ruling. Wicker appears to be making the case that the EU seems to misunderstand that redress rights in the U.S. are more than adequate, and the U.S.’ surveillance regime is similar to those of some EU nations. One wonders if the CJEU is inclined to agree with this position. Nonetheless, Wicker expressed hope that the EU and U.S. can reach “a durable and lasting data transfer framework…that provides meaningful data protections to consumers, sustains the free flow of information across the Atlantic, and encourages continued economic and strategic partnership with our European allies – a tall order but an essential order.” He worried about the effect of the CJEU’s ruling on SCCs. Wicker made the case that the EU and U.S. share democratic values and hinted that the ongoing talks in the committee to reach a federal data privacy law might include augmented redress rights that might satisfy the CJEU.

Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) spoke very broadly about a range of issues related to data transfers and privacy. She stressed the importance of data flows in the context of larger trade relations. Cantwell also stressed the shared values between the U.S. and the EU and her hope that the two entities work “together on these very important national concerns, trade and technology, so that we can continue to improve economic opportunities and avoid moves towards protectionism.” She also called for federal privacy legislation but hinted that states should still be able to regulate privacy, suggesting her commitment to having a federal law be a floor for state laws. Cantwell also asserted that bulk surveillance, the likes of which the National security Agency has engaged in, may simply not be legal under EU law.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Services James Sullivan blurred the issues presented by Schrems II much like Cantwell did. The CJEU’s decision that focused on U.S. surveillance practices and the lack of meaningful recourse in the U.S. if an EU resident’s rights were violated was merged into a call for like-minded nations to unite against authoritarian nations. Sullivan distinguished between U.S. surveillance and the surveillance conducted by the People’s Republic of China (without naming the nation) and other regimes as if this should satisfy the EU as to the legality and propriety of U.S. treatment of EU personal data. Sullivan stated:

  • The Schrems II decision has created enormous uncertainties for U.S. companies and the transatlantic economy at a particularly precarious time. Immediately upon issuance of the ruling, the 5,400 Privacy Shield participants and their business partners in the EU could no longer rely on the Framework as a lawful basis for transferring personal data from Europe to the United States. Because neither the Court nor European data protection authorities provided for any enforcement grace period, Privacy Shield companies were left with three choices: (1) risk facing potentially huge fines (of up to 4 percent of total global turnover in the preceding year) for violating GDPR, (2) withdraw from the European market, or (3) switch right away to another more expensive data transfer mechanism.
  • Unfortunately, because of the Court’s ruling in the Privacy Shield context that U.S. laws relating to government access to data do not confer adequate protections for EU personal data, the use of other mechanisms like SCCs and BCRs to transfer EU personal data to the United States is now in question as well.
  • The objective of any potential agreement between the United States and the European Commission to address Schrems II is to restore the continuity of transatlantic data flows and the Framework’s privacy protections by negotiating targeted enhancements to Privacy Shield that address the Court’s concerns in Schrems II. Any such enhancements must respect the U.S. Government’s security responsibilities to our citizens and allies.
  • To be clear, we expect that any enhancements to the Privacy Shield Framework would also cover transfers under all other EU-approved data transfer mechanisms like SCCs and BCRs as well.
  • The Schrems II decision has underscored the need for a broader discussion among likeminded democracies on the issue of government access to data. Especially as a result of the extensive U.S. surveillance reforms since 2015, the United States affords privacy protections relating to national security data access that are equivalent to or greater than those provided by many other democracies in Europe and elsewhere.
  • To minimize future disruptions to data transfers, we have engaged with the European Union and other democratic nations in a multilateral discussion to develop principles based on common practices for addressing how best to reconcile law enforcement and national security needs for data with protection of individual rights.
  • It is our view that democracies should come together to articulate shared principles regarding government access to personal data—to help make clear the distinction between democratic societies that respect civil liberties and the rule of law and authoritarian governments that engage in the unbridled collection of personal data to surveil, manipulate, and control their citizens and other individuals without regard to personal privacy and human rights. Such principles would allow us to work with like-minded partners in preserving and promoting a free and open Internet enabled by the seamless flow of data.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Commissioner Noah Joshua Phillips stressed he was speaking in a personal capacity and not for the FTC. He extolled the virtues of the “free and open” internet model in the U.S. with the double implication that it is superior both to nations like the PRC and Russia but also the EU model. Phillips seemed to be advocating for talking the EU into accepting that the U.S.’s privacy regime and civil liberties are stronger than any other nation. Her also made the case, like other witnesses, that the U.S. data privacy and protection regulation is more similar to the EU than the PRC, Russia, and others. Phillips also sought to blur the issues and recast Privacy Shield in the context of the global struggle between democracies and authoritarian regimes. Phillips asserted:

  • First, we need to find a path forward after Schrems II, to permit transfers between the U.S. and EU. I want to recognize the efforts of U.S. and EU negotiators to find a replacement for Privacy Shield. While no doubt challenging, I have confidence in the good faith and commitment of public servants like Jim Sullivan, with whom I have the honor of appearing today, and our partners across the Atlantic. I have every hope and expectation that protecting cross-border data flows will be a priority for the incoming Administration, and I ask for your help in ensuring it is.
  • Second, we must actively engage with nations evaluating their approach to digital governance, something we at the FTC have done, to share and promote the benefits of a free and open Internet. There is an active conversation ongoing internationally, and at every opportunity—whether in public forums or via private assistance—we must ensure our voice and view is heard.
  • Third, we should be vocal in our defense of American values and policies. While we as Americans always look to improve our laws—and I commend the members of this committee on their important work on privacy legislation and other critical matters—we do not need to apologize to the world. When it comes to civil liberties or the enforcement of privacy laws, we are second to none. Indeed, in my view, the overall U.S. privacy framework—especially with the additional protections built into Privacy Shield—should certainly qualify as adequate under EU standards.
  • Fourth, as European leaders call to strengthen ties with the U.S., we should prioritize making our regimes compatible for the free flow of data. This extends to the data governance regimes of like-minded countries outside of Europe as well. Different nations will have different rules, but relatively minor differences need not impede mutually-beneficial commerce. We need not and should not purport to aim for a single, identical system of data governance. And we should remind our allies, and remind ourselves, that far more unites liberal democracies than divides us.
  • Fifth and finally, if we must draw lines, those lines should be drawn between allies with shared values—the U.S., Europe, Japan, Australia, and others—and those, like China and Russia, that offer a starkly different vision. I am certainly encouraged when I hear recognition of this distinction from Europe. European Data Protection Supervisor Wojciech Wiewiórowski recently noted that the U.S. is much closer to Europe than is China and that he has a preference for data being processed by countries that share values with Europe. Some here in the U.S. are even proposing agreements to solidify the relationships among technologically advanced democracies, an idea worth exploring in more detail

Washington University Professor of Law Neil Richards stressed that the Schrems II decision spells out how the U.S. would achieve adequacy: reforming surveillance and providing meaningful redress for alleged privacy violations. Consequently, FISA would need to be rewritten and narrowed and a means for EU residents to seek relief beyond the current Ombudsman system is needed, possibly a statutory right to sue. Moreover, he asserted strong data protection and privacy laws are needed and some of the bills introduced in this Congress could fit the bill. Richards asserted:

In sum, the Schrems litigation is a creature of distrust, and while it has created problems for American law and commerce, it has also created a great opportunity. That opportunity lies before this Committee –the chance to regain American leadership in global privacy and data protection by passing a comprehensive law that provides appropriate safeguards, enforceable rights, and effective legal remedies for consumers. I believe that the way forward can not only safeguard the ability to share personal data across the Atlantic, but it can do so in a way that builds trust between the United States and our European trading partners and between American companies and their American and European customers. I believe that there is a way forward, but it requires us to recognize that strong, clear, trust-building rules are not hostile to business interest, that we need to push past the failed system of “notice and choice,” that we need to preserve effective consumer remedies and state-level regulatory innovation, and seriously consider a duty of loyalty. In that direction, I believe, lies not just consumer protection, but international cooperation and economic prosperity.

Georgia Tech University Professor Peter Swire explained that the current circumstances make the next Congress the best possibility in memory to enact privacy legislation because of the need for a Privacy Shield replacement, passage of the new California Privacy Rights Act (Proposition 24), and the Biden Administration’s likely support for such legislation. Swire made the following points:

  1. The European Data Protection Board in November issued draft guidance with an extremely strict interpretation of how to implement the Schrems II case.
  2. The decision in Schrems II is based on EU constitutional law. There are varying current interpretations in Europe of what is required by Schrems II, but constitutional requirements may restrict the range of options available to EU and U.S. policymakers.
  3. Strict EU rules about data transfers, such as the draft EDPB guidance, would appear to result in strict data localization, creating numerous major issues for EU- and U.S.-based businesses, as well as affecting many online activities of EU individuals.
  4. Along with concerns about lack of individual redress, the CJEU found that the EU Commission had not established that U.S. surveillance was “proportionate” in its scope and operation. Appendix 2 to this testimony seeks to contribute to an informed judgment on proportionality, by cataloguing developments in U.S. surveillance safeguards since the Commission’s issuance of its Privacy Shield decision in 2016.
  5. Negotiating an EU/U.S. adequacy agreement is important in the short term.
  6. A short-run agreement would assist in creating a better overall long-run agreement or agreements.
  7. As the U.S. considers its own possible legal reforms in the aftermath of Schrems II, it is prudent and a normal part of negotiations to seek to understand where the other party – the EU – may have flexibility to reform its own laws.
  8. Issues related to Schrems II have largely been bipartisan in the U.S., with substantial continuity across the Obama and Trump administrations, and expected as well for a Biden administration.
  9. Passing comprehensive privacy legislation would help considerably in EU/U.S. negotiations.
  10. This Congress may have a unique opportunity to enact comprehensive commercial privacy legislation for the United States.

© Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog and michaelkans.blog, 2019-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog, and michaelkans.blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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EDPB Publishes Schrems II Recommendations; EU Parliament Issues Draft SCC Revisions

The EU takes steps to respond to the CJEU’s striking down of the EU-US Privacy Shield by augmenting SCCs and other transfer mechanisms.

The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) published recommendations for entities exporting and importing the personal data of European Union (EU) residents in light of the court decision striking down the adequacy decision that allowed transfers to the United States (U.S.). The EDPB noted that alternate mechanisms like standard contractual clauses (SCC) may still be used for transfers to nations without adequate protections of EU rights provided that supplemental measures are used. It should be noted that the EDPB said that supplemental measures will be needed for the use of any transfers to nations that do not guarantee the same level of rights as the EU, which would include Binding Corporate Rules (BCR). While, the EDPB’s recommendations will undoubtedly prove persuasive with the Supervisory Authorities (SA), each SA will ultimately assess whether the mechanisms and supplementary measures used by entities comport with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.

In a summary of its decision Data Protection Commissioner v. Facebook Ireland and Maximillian Schrems, Case C-311/18 (Schrems II), the Court of Justice for the European Union (CJEU) explained:

The GDPR provides that the transfer of such data to a third country may, in principle, take place only if the third country in question ensures an adequate level of data protection. According to the GDPR, the Commission may find that a third country ensures, by reason of its domestic law or its international commitments, an adequate level of protection. In the absence of an adequacy decision, such transfer may take place only if the personal data exporter established in the EU has provided appropriate safeguards, which may arise, in particular, from standard data protection clauses adopted by the Commission, and if data subjects have enforceable rights and effective legal remedies. Furthermore, the GDPR details the conditions under which such a transfer may take place in the absence of an adequacy decision or appropriate safeguards.

Ultimately, the CJEU found the U.S. lacks the requisite safeguards needed under EU law, and so the general means of transferring the data of EU citizens from the EU to the U.S. was essentially struck down. This marked the second time in the last five years such an agreement had been found to violate EU law. However, the CJEU left open the question of whether SCCs may permit the continued exporting of EU personal data into the U.S. for companies like Facebook, Google, and many, many others. Consequently, there has been no small amount of interpreting and questioning of whether this may be a way for the trans-Atlantic data flow worth billions, perhaps even trillions, of dollars to continue. And yet, the CJEU seemed clear that additional measures would likely be necessary. Indeed, the CJEU asserted “[c]ontrollers and processors should be encouraged to provide additional safeguards via contractual commitments that supplement standard protection clauses” and “[i]n so far as those standard data protection clauses cannot, having regard to their very nature, provide guarantees beyond a contractual obligation to ensure compliance with the level of protection required under EU law, they may require, depending on the prevailing position in a particular third country, the adoption of supplementary measures by the controller in order to ensure compliance with that level of protection.”

In “Recommendations 01/2020 on measures that supplement transfer tools to ensure compliance with the EU level of protection of personal data,” the EDPB explained the genesis and rationale for the document:

  • The GDPR or the [CJEU] do not define or specify the “additional safeguards”, “additional measures” or “supplementary measures” to the safeguards of the transfer tools listed under Article 46.2 of the GDPR that controllers and processors may adopt to ensure compliance with the level of protection required under EU law in a particular third country.
  • The EDPB has decided, on its own initiative, to examine this question and to provide controllers and processors, acting as exporters, with recommendations on the process they may follow to identify and adopt supplementary measures. These recommendations aim at providing a methodology for the exporters to determine whether and which additional measures would need to be put in place for their transfers. It is the primary responsibility of exporters to ensure that the data transferred is afforded in the third country of a level of protection essentially equivalent to that guaranteed within the EU. With these recommendations, the EDPB seeks to encourage consistent application of the GDPR and the Court’s ruling, pursuant to the EDPB’s mandate

Broadly speaking, whether SCCs and supplemental measures will pass muster under the GDPR will be determined on a case-by-case basis. The EDPB did not offer much in the way of bright line rules. Indeed, it will be up to SAs to determine if transfers to nations like the U.S. are possible under the GDPR, meaning these recommendations may shed more light on this central question without deciding it. One wonders, as a practical matter, if the SAs will have the capacity, resources, and will to police SCCs to ensure the GDPR and Charter are being met.

Nonetheless, the EDPB stressed the principle of accountability under which controllers which export personal data must ensure that whatever mechanism and supplemental measures govern a data transfer, the data must receive the same protection it would in the EU. The EDPB made the point that EU protections travel with the data and should EU personal data make its way to a country where it is not possible for appropriate protection to occur, then the transfer violates the GDPR. Moreover, these recommendations pertain to both public and private transfers of EU data to private sector entities outside the EU.

These recommendations work like a decision tree with exporters needing to ask themselves a series of questions to determine whether they must use supplemental measures. This may prove a resource intensive process, for exporters will need to map all transfers (i.e. know exactly) where the data are going. The exporter must understand the laws and practices of the third nation in order to put in place appropriate measures if this is possible in order to meet the EU’s data protection standards.

Reading between the lines leads one to conclude that data exporters may not send personal data to the U.S. for its federal surveillance regime is not “necessary and proportionate,” at least from the EU’s view. The U.S. lacks judicial redress in the case a U.S. national, let alone a foreign national, objects to the sweeping surveillance. The U.S. also has neither a national data protection law nor a dedicated data protection authority. These hints seem to also convey the EDPB’s view on the sorts of legal reforms needed in the U.S. before an adequacy decision would pass muster with the CJEU.

The EDPB said it was still evaluating how Schrems II affects the use of BCR and ad hoc contractual clauses, two of the other alternate means of transferring EU personal data in the absence of an adequacy agreement.

Nevertheless, in an annex, the EDPB provided examples of supplementary measures that may be used depending on the circumstances, of course, such as “flawlessly implemented” encryption and pseudonymizing data. However, the EDPB discusses these in the context of different scenarios and calls for more conditions than just the two aforementioned. Moreover, the EDPB rules out two scenarios categorically as being inadequate: “Transfer to cloud services providers or other processors which require access to data in the clear” and “Remote access to data for business purposes.”

The EDPB also issued an update to guidance published after the first lawsuit brought by Maximilian Schrems resulted in the striking down of the Safe Harbor transfer agreement. The forerunner to the EDPB, the Working Party 29, had drafted and released the European Essential Guarantees, and so, in light of Schrems II, the EDPB updated and published “Recommendations 02/2020 on the European Essential Guarantees for surveillance measures” “to provide elements to examine, whether surveillance measures allowing access to personal data by public authorities in a third country, being national security agencies or law enforcement authorities, can be regarded as a justifiable interference or not” with fundamental EU rights and protections. As the EDPB explains, these recommendations are intended to help data controllers and exporters determine whether other nations have protections and processes in place equivalent to those of the EU visa vis their surveillance programs. The EDPB stressed that these are the essential guarantees and other features and processes may be needed for a determination of lawfulness under EU law.

The EDPB formulated the four European Essential Guarantees:

A. Processing should be based on clear, precise and accessible rules

B. Necessity and proportionality with regard to the legitimate objectives pursued need to be demonstrated

C. An independent oversight mechanism should exist

D. Effective remedies need to be available to the individual

The European Commission (EC) has also released for comment a draft revision of SCC for transfers of personal data to countries outside the EU. The EC is accepting comments and input until 10 December. It may be no accident that the EDPB and EC more or less acted in unison to address the practical and statutory changes necessary to effectuate the CJEU’s striking down of the EU-US Privacy Shield. Whatever the case, the EC released draft legislative language and, in an Annex, actual contract language for use by controllers and processors in the form of modules that are designed to be used in a variety of common circumstances (e.g., transfers by controllers to other controllers or a controller to a processor.) However, as the EDPB did, the EC stressed that SCCs form a floor and controllers, processors, and other parties are free to add additional language so long as it does not contradict or denigrate the rights protected by SCCs.

In the implementing decision, the EC asserted

the standard contractual clauses needed to be updated in light of new requirements in Regulation (EU) 2016/679. Moreover, since the adoption of these decisions, important developments have taken place in the digital economy, with the widespread use of new and more complex processing operations often involving multiple data importers and exporters, long and complex processing chains as well as evolving business relationships. This calls for a modernisation of the standard contractual clauses to better reflect those realities, by covering additional processing and transfer situations and to use a more flexible approach, for example with respect to the number of parties able to join the contract.

The EC continued:

The standard contractual clauses set out in the Annex to this Decision may be used by a controller or a processor in order to provide appropriate safeguards within the meaning of Article 46(1) of Regulation (EU) 2016/679 for the transfer of personal data to a processor or a controller established in a third country. This also includes the transfer of personal data by a controller or processor not established in the Union, to the extent that the processing is subject to Regulation (EU) 2016/679 pursuant to Article 3(2) thereof, because it relates to the offering of goods or services to data subjects in the Union or the monitoring of their behaviour as far as their behaviour takes place within the Union.

The EC explained the design and intent of the SCC language in the Annex:

  • The standard contractual clauses set out in the Annex to this Decision combine general clauses with a modular approach to cater for various transfer scenarios and the complexity of modern processing chains. In addition to the general clauses, controllers and processors should select the module applicable to their situation, which makes it possible to tailor their obligations under the standard contractual clauses to their corresponding role and responsibilities in relation to the data processing at issue. It should be possible for more than two parties to adhere to the standard contractual clauses. Moreover, additional controllers and processors should be allowed to accede to the standard contractual clauses as data exporters or importers throughout the life cycle of the contract of which those clauses form a part.
  • These Clauses set out appropriate safeguards, including enforceable data subject rights and effective legal remedies, pursuant to Article 46(1), and Article 46 (2)(c) of Regulation (EU) 2016/679 and, with respect to data transfers from controllers to processors and/or processors to processors, standard contractual clauses pursuant to Article 28(7) of Regulation (EU) 2016/679, provided they are not modified, except to add or update information in the Annexes. This does not prevent the Parties from including the standard contractual clauses laid down in this Clauses in a wider contract, and to add other clauses or additional safeguards provided that they do not contradict, directly or indirectly, the standard contractual clauses or prejudice the fundamental rights or freedoms of data subjects. These Clauses are without prejudice to obligations to which the data exporter is subject by virtue of the Regulation (EU) 2016/679

In October, the Trump Administration released a crib sheet they are hoping U.S. multinationals will have success in using to argue to SAs that SCC and BCR and U.S. law satisfy the European Court of Justice’s ruling that struck down the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield. And, the Trump Administration is basically arguing, sure, we spy, but most EU citizens data is not surveilled and EU governments themselves often share in the proceeds of the surveillance we conduct. Moreover, there are plenty of safeguards and means of redress in the U.S. system because, you know, we say so. It is unlikely this analysis will be very persuasive in the EU, especially since these broad arguments do not go to the criticisms the EU has had under Privacy Shield about U.S. surveillance and privacy rights nor to the basis for the CJEU’s ruling.

Earlier this month, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) published a strategy detailing how EU agencies and bodies should comply with the CJEU ruling that struck down the EU-US Privacy Shield and threw into question the compliance of SCC with EU law and the GDPR. The EDPS has already started working with EU Institutions’, bodies, offices and agencies (EUIs) on the process of determining if their transfers of the personal data of people in the EU to the U.S. meets the CJEU’s judgement.

© Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog and michaelkans.blog, 2019-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog, and michaelkans.blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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National Privacy Legislation Stalled in U.S.

The chances for U.S. privacy legislation are worse now than they were before the pandemic.  However, there may be some decision points approaching.     

A few weeks into the traditional August recess, Congress is no closer to enacting federal privacy legislation than before the pandemic. In fact, such legislation may be further from being sent to the White House now that more pressing, more immediate maters have eclipsed privacy such as further COVID-19 relief legislation and appropriations for the next fiscal year set to start on 30 September. There is always the chance stakeholders will dispense with their entrenched positions during a post-election session and reach agreement on a bill, but this will depend on the election results, for if Democrats take the White House and Senate, they may well conclude they will get privacy legislation more to their liking next year.

In terms of the present impasse, at present, emanates from a few different issues: a private right of action for people and state preemption. Generally speaking, Democrats favor the former and oppose the latter with Republicans’ position being the opposite. However, it is possible the two parties can agree on a limited right for people to sue companies for violating their privacy rights and some form of preemption of contrary state laws, perhaps along the lines of the preemption structure in the “Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999” (P.L. 106–102) (aka the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act) that sets a uniform floor for privacy and data security that states may regulate above. However, industry stakeholders are likely resisting any such provisions for they would still face litigation, likely in the form of class actions, and varied, differing privacy standards across the U.S.

Otherwise, there is broad agreement that people in the U.S. would be notified of the privacy practices of entities before they can start collecting, processing, and sharing personal data and would need to explicitly agree to allow this to happen. And so, it would likely be an opt-in for most data collection, processing, and sharing. However, people would likely get a more limited set of rights to opt out of certain practices such as data transfers to third parties, but there is a great deal of variance among the leading bills on what people can choose to avoid. Likewise, people in the U.S. would generally be able to request and receive, access, correct, and delete personal data in specified situations. Most, but not all, of the bills name the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as the regulator of a new privacy regulatory structure with varying degrees of rulemaking power. A handful of other bills seek to create out of whole cloth a new privacy regulator along the lines of Europe’s data protection authorities.

However, if the voters of California vote for the ballot initiative to enact the “California Privacy Rights Act” (CPRA), a tightening of the “California Consumer Privacy Act” (CCPA) (AB 375) that would prevent future amendments to weaken or dilute privacy protection in California, things may change in Washington. Deprived of a means of rolling back California’s new privacy regulatory structure, as many industry stakeholders tried to do in the last legislative session with the CCPA, these interests may set their sights on a national privacy bill that would ameliorate this situation. Consequently, they may pressure Republicans and Democrats in Congress to resolve the outstanding issues on federal privacy legislation.

Moreover, stakeholders in Washington are responding to what appears to be the more urgent fire: the deathblow dealt to Privacy Shield by the European Union’s highest court. Without an agreement in place to allow multinationals to transfer and process the personal data to the U.S., these entities will need to cease doing so or implement alternate means of doing so under the General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR) such as standard contract clauses (SCC) or binding corporate rules (BCR), but even these means of transfer are not without risk. European Union (EU) data protection authorities (DPAs) may soon be reviewing these agreements to ensure they comport with the Court of Justice of the European Union’s (CJEU) ruling that the U.S. lacks controls and remedies to ensure the privacy rights of EU citizens.

It bears note that another suit has been filed in the EU to test the legality of using SCCs generally to transfer data to the U.S. Austrian privacy activist Maximillian Schrems and the organization he is working with, noyb–European Center for Digital Rights, have filed 101 complaints in all 30 EU nations and the 33 European Economic Area (EEA) nations, arguing that Google and Facebook are operating in violation of the CJEU’s ruling. Specifically, the organization is claiming:

A quick analysis of the HTML source code of major EU webpages shows that many companies still use Google Analytics or Facebook Connect one month after a major judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) – despite both companies clearly falling under US surveillance laws, such as [Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)]. Neither Facebook nor Google seem to have a legal basis for the data transfers. Google still claims to rely on the “Privacy Shield” a month after it was invalidated, while Facebook continues to use the “SCCs”, despite the Court finding that US surveillance laws violate the essence of EU fundamental rights.

Consequently, even if SCCs are used more widely as means of transferring personal data, the CJEU could find that such agreements for transfers to the U.S. do not comport with the GDPR, eliminating another means used by which U.S. multinationals. This could lead to more companies like Facebook and Google segregating EU data and processing it in the EU or another jurisdiction for which the European Commission has issued an adequacy decision. Or, this could create pressure in Washington to reform U.S. surveillance laws and practices in order that a future general data transfer agreement pass muster with the CJEU.

Still, it may serve some purpose to list the salient privacy bills and link to analysis. As mentioned, a trio of COVID-19 privacy bills were introduced a few months ago to address mainly the use of smartphones for exposure and contact tracing:

Otherwise, the major privacy bills introduced this Congress include:

© Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog and michaelkans.blog, 2019-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog, and michaelkans.blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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EDPB Issues FAQs On Privacy Shield Decision

While the EDPB does not provide absolute answers on how US entities looking to transfer EU personal data should proceed, the agencies provide their best thinking on what the path forward looks like.

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On 24 July, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) has addressed, in part, the implications of the recent decision that struck down the European Union-United States Privacy Shield, an agreement that had allowed US companies to transfer and process the personal data of EU citizens. The EDPB fully endorsed the view that the United States’ (US) surveillance regime, notably Section 702 of the “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act” (FISA) and Executive Order (EO) 12333, makes most transfers to the US illegal except perhaps if entities holding and using the data take extra steps to protect it. The EDPB references another means that allows for transfers to possibly continue but that generally requires informed and explicit consent from each and every EU person involved. Finally, the EDPB does not address whether the European Commission (EC) and the US are able to execute a third agreement that would be legal under EU law.

The EDPB, which is comprised of the European Union’s (EU) data protection authorities (DPAs), has formally adopted a document spelling out its view on if data transfers under Privacy Shield to the US are still legal and how companies should proceed in using standard contractual clauses (SCCs) and Binding Corporate Rules (BCR), two alternative means of transferring data aside from Privacy Shield. The EDPB’s views suggest the DPAs and supervisory authorities (SA) in each EU nation are going to need to work on a case-by-case basis regarding the latter two means, for the EDPB stressed these are to be evaluated individually. Given recent criticism of how nations are funding and resourcing their DPAs, there may be capacity issues in managing this new work alongside existing enforcement and investigation matters. Moreover, the EDPB discusses use of the exceptions available in Article 49 of the General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR), stressing that most such transfers are to be occasional.

In last week’s decision, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) invalidated the European Commission’s adequacy decision on the EU-US Privacy Shield, thus throwing into question all transfers of personal data from the EU into the US that relied on this means. The CJEU was more circumspect in ruling on the use of standard contractual clauses (SCC), another way to legally transfer personal data out of the EU in compliance with the bloc’s law. The court seems to suggest there may be cases in which the use of SCCs may be inadequate given a country’s inadequate protections of the data of EU residents, especially with respect to national security and law enforcement surveillance. The EDPB issued a statement when the decision was made supporting the CJEU but has now adopted a more detailed explanation of its views on the implications of the decision for data controllers, data processors, other nations, EU DPAs and SAs.

In “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on the judgment of the CJEU in Case C-311/18 -Data Protection Commissioner v Facebook Ireland Ltd and Maximillian Schrems,” the EDPB explains its current thinking on the decision, much of which is built on existing guidance and interpretation of the GDPR. The EDPB explained that the FAQ “aims at presenting answers to some frequently asked questions received by SAs and will be developed and complemented along with further analysis, as the EDPB continues to examine and assess the judgment of the CJEU.”

Here are notable excerpts:

  • Is there any grace period during which I can keep on transferring data to the U.S. without assessing my legal basis for the transfer? No, the Court has invalidated the Privacy Shield Decision without maintaining its effects, because the U.S. law assessed by the Court does not provide an essentially equivalent level of protection to the EU. This assessment has to be taken into account for any transfer to the U.S.
  • I was transferring data to a U.S. data importer adherent to the Privacy Shield, what should I do now? Transfers on the basis of this legal framework are illegal. Should you wish to keep on transferring data to the U.S., you would need to check whether you can do so under the conditions laid down below.
  • I am using SCCs with a data importer in the U.S., what should I do? The Court found that U.S. law (i.e., Section 702 FISA and EO 12333) does not ensure an essentially equivalent level of protection. Whether or not you can transfer personal data on the basis of SCCs will depend on the result of your assessment, taking into account the circumstances of the transfers, and supplementary measures you could put in place. The supplementary measures along with SCCs, following a case-by-case analysis of the circumstances surrounding the transfer, would have to ensure that U.S. law does not impinge on the adequate level of protection they guarantee. If you come to the conclusion that, taking into account the circumstances of the transfer and possible supplementary measures, appropriate safeguards would not be ensured, you are required to suspend or end the transfer of personal data. However, if you are intending to keep transferring data despite this conclusion, you must notify your competent SA.
  • I am using Binding Corporate Rules (“BCRs”) with an entity in the U.S., what should I do? Given the judgment of the Court, which invalidated the Privacy Shield because of the degree of interference created by the law of the U.S. with the fundamental rights of persons whose data are transferred to that third country, and the fact that the Privacy Shield was also designed to bring guarantees to data transferred with other tools such as BCRs, the Court’s assessment applies as well in the context of BCRs, since U.S. law will also have primacy over this tool.
  • Whether or not you can transfer personal data on the basis of BCRs will depend on the result of your assessment, taking into account the circumstances of the transfers, and supplementary measures you could put in place. These supplementary measures along with BCRs, following a case-by-case analysis of the circumstances surrounding the transfer, would have to ensure that U.S. law does not impinge on the adequate level of protection they guarantee. If you come to the conclusion that, taking into account the circumstances of the transfer and possible supplementary measures, appropriate safeguards would not be ensured, you are required to suspend or end the transfer of personal data. However if you are intending to keep transferring data despite this conclusion, you must notify your competent SA.
  • Can I rely on one of the derogations of Article 49 GDPR to transfer data to the U.S.? It is still possible to transfer data from the EEA to the U.S. on the basis of derogations foreseen in Article 49 GDPR provided the conditions set forth in this Article apply. The EDPB refers to its guidelines on this provision. In particular, it should be recalled that when transfers are based on the consent of the data subject, it should be:
    • explicit,
    • specific for the particular data transfer or set of transfers (meaning that the data exporter must make sure to obtain specific consent before the transfer is put in place even if this occurs after the collection of the data has been made),and
    • informed, particularly as to the possible risks of the transfer (meaning the data subject should also informed of the specific risks resulting from the fact that their data will be transferred to a country that does not provide adequate protection and that no adequate safeguards aimed at providing protection for the data are being implemented).
  • With regard to transfers necessary for the performance of a contract between the data subject and the controller, it should be borne in mind that personal data may only be transferred when the transfer is occasional. It would have to be established on a case-by-case basis whether data transfers would be determined as “occasional” or “non-occasional”. In any case, this derogation can only be relied upon when the transfer is objectively necessary for the performance of the contract.
  • In relation to transfers necessary for important reasons of public interest(which must be recognized in EU or Member States’ law), the EDPB recalls that the essential requirement for the applicability of this derogation is the finding of an important public interest and not the nature of the organisation, and that although this derogation is not limited to data transfers that are “occasional”, this does not mean that data transfers on the basis of the important public interest derogation can take place on a large scale and in a systematic manner. Rather, the general principle needs to be respected according to which the derogations as set out in Article 49 GDPR should not become “the rule” in practice, but need to be restricted to specific situations and each data exporter needs to ensure that the transfer meets the strict necessity test.

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