US and EU leaders agree on new data transfer deal

U.S. and EU leaders have agreed on a new data transfer deal. /CFP

The United States and the European Union made a breakthrough in their years-long battle over the privacy of data that flows across the Atlantic with a preliminary agreement struck on Friday that paves the way for Europeans' personal information to be stored in the U.S.

The data includes "any information that we voluntarily provide or generate when using services and products online," said Alexandre Roure, an official with the tech trade group CCIA. That includes names, ID numbers and geolocation data, online identifiers like IP addresses and emails, and other information that tech companies use to target ads.

President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the deal during Biden's visit to Brussels on his European tour amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

"Today we've agreed to unprecedented protections for data privacy and security for our citizens," Biden said. "This new arrangement will enhance the Privacy Shield framework, promote growth and innovation in Europe and the United States, and help companies – both small and large – compete in the digital economy."

Von der Leyen said the agreement "will enable predictable and trustworthy data flows between the EU and the U.S., safeguarding privacy and civil liberties."

Business groups hailed the announcement, saying it would provide relief to thousands of companies, including tech giants like Google and Facebook, that faced uncertainty over their ability to send data between the U.S. and Europe, which has much stricter regulations on data privacy. Data may be related to employees or customers and users, and companies use it for all types of online advertising, purchases and communications.

The deal stems from a complaint filed a decade ago by Austrian lawyer and privacy activist Max Schrems, who was concerned about how Facebook handled his data in light of revelations from former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about U.S. government cyber snooping.

Companies welcome provisional deal

The new agreement "will help keep people connected and services running," Facebook Head of Global Affairs Nick Clegg tweeted. "It will provide invaluable certainty for American & European companies of all sizes, including Meta, who rely on transferring data quickly and safely."

Google said it commended the work by the EU and U.S. to "safeguard transatlantic data transfers."

Activist Schrems, however, said a lack of details was troubling and that if the United States was only offering executive reassurances instead of changing its surveillance laws, he would not hesitate to go to court to challenge it.

"The final text will need more time, once this arrives we will analyze it in depth, together with our U.S. legal experts. If it is not in line with EU law, we or another group will likely challenge it," he said in a statement.

An EU official familiar with the matter said it will likely take months to turn the provisional agreement into a final legal deal.

"First, the U.S. needs to prepare their executive order, and then we need to do our internal consultation in the Commission and within the European Data Protection Board," the official said, referring to the EU privacy watchdog.