The roller coaster of developments affecting the Safe Harbor framework shows no signs of slowing down. It has taken a couple of years since Edward Snowden’s revelations for the train to reach to its highest point, but once the European Court of Justice ruled on the Schrems case, we knew it would be a bumpy ride. In the past weeks, most of the attention has focused on the EU data protection authorities, which are now more emboldened than ever and keen to capitalize on the ECJ’s decision to tighten the regime affecting international dataflows. The European Commission’s communication of 6 November to the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, coupled with its practical guidance, represents yet another turn in this uncertain journey. At the same time, the Commission’s intervention is helpful in terms of the decision-making process that many organisations—for which transatlantic transfers are vital—are trying to grapple with.
On November 6, 2015, the European Commission issued its widely anticipated Communication to the European Parliament and Council about the effect of the Court of Justice of the European Union’s Schrems decision, which invalidated the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor framework. The Commission expresses a commitment to negotiate with the U.S. Government a new framework for cross-border transfers of personal data. The Commission also emphasizes that the Communication does not have binding legal effect, but concludes that companies should rely on “alternative tools” for authorizing data flows to third countries like the United States.
In a recent column for The New York Times, Nils Muiznieks, the top human rights official for the Council of Europe, warned that recent surveillance laws in Europe undermine fundamental rights for European citizens. Plus, an October 29, 2015, resolution of the European Parliament complains of an “obvious downward spiral” resulting from mass surveillance laws in the U.S. and Europe. That certain European countries have laws permitting mass surveillance is not news to lawyers who follow the matter. In a 2012 whitepaper, we highlighted the broad and sometimes unsupervised powers of intelligence agencies of certain European governments. As Muiznieks’s column states, intelligence agencies are getting more surveillance power, not less. France’s July 2015 surveillance law permits intelligence agencies to scan metadata of all citizens in order to detect suspicious patterns. Other European countries are also broadening surveillance powers to protect against terrorism.