Trump team ‘dispels’ EU doubts on data protection deal

US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker (L) and European Union Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Vera Jourova talk to the media at the EU headquarters in Brussels, on July 12, 2016./ AFP / Thierry Charlier/

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AFP) – US President Donald Trump’s administration has “dispelled” doubts over whether it will stand by a hard-won personal data protection accord with Europe struck during Barack Obama’s presidency, the EU said Wednesday.

But Brussels said it still wanted Washington to improve on a deal to protect European personal data transferred to the US by internet giants like Google and Facebook.

Last year’s deal replaced a previous arrangement struck down by the bloc’s top court, leaving the big companies unsure whether they could transfer data without facing a legal challenge.

However, Trump’s “America first” policy, which has prompted him to back out of agreements sealed by Obama, had raised European Union concerns.

“I can say that my second visit dispelled my doubts whether ‘America first’ does not mean ‘America only’,” EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said at a press conference in Brussels.

Jourova said US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and his team, whom she met last month in Washington, “have been very clear about their commitment to the privacy shield.”

“And I got the feeling they understood the concerns Europeans have about the transfer of their personal data,” she added.

Ross likewise welcomed the reaction of European officials’ Wednesday, saying the agreement served all sides well.

Space for improvement?

“We look forward to continuing to work together with our colleagues on the European Commission and across all of the EU member states as we continually strive to ensure that the Privacy Shield program serves all stakeholders well,” Ross said in a statement.

But Jourova acknowledged there were “still some differences” between the two sides over the balance to strike between protecting privacy and ensuring security.

The European Commission, the executive of the 28-nation EU, said the deal “continues to ensure an adequate level of protection” for personal data transferred to firms in the US.

Jourova said the US, for example, has implemented ways in which EU individuals and firms can seek and obtain redress for complaints they may have with data transfers.

She added that more than 2,400 companies had already been certified by the US Commerce Department to participate in the scheme.

The commission said relevant US safeguards remained in place over access to personal data by US public authorities for national security reasons.

“But we also found space for improvement,” Jourova added.

The commission recommended US authorities do more to monitor whether companies were complying with their obligations under the deal, as well as regularly search participating companies that make false claims.

It called for closer cooperation between relevant US authorities and their EU data protection counterparts.

Jourova urged Washington to name an ombudsman to tackle complaints from EU citizens “as soon as possible,” though there was “no concrete deadline.”