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Privacy Activist Spars With EU Official Over Data-Transfer Rules

Sept. 3, 2020, 3:55 PM

The European Union’s justice chief sparred with a privacy activist over data transfers after a court struck down a key pact with the U.S. for a second time in five years.

Companies and regulators are grappling with a decision from the EU Court of Justice that threw out the so-called privacy shield over concerns about potential American surveillance. Thousands of businesses rely on the rules to ship commercial data from Europe to the U.S.

EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders warned at a hearing Thursday that legal solutions will take time. He told EU lawmakers in Brussels that talks with the U.S. will intensify in the coming weeks on “sustainable solutions that deliver legal certainty.”

But the delays were criticized by Max Schrems, an Austrian privacy activist who sparked the court ruling with complaints to Ireland’s privacy regulator about Facebook Inc. He said the Irish agency doesn’t plan to immediately pursue an investigation into the problematic transfers.

“The bottom line is probably there is not going to be a decision within the next two or three years,” which could then face even more legal challenges, Schrems said. The 32-year-old said he’d be “gray and old” before it’s finalized “and that’s not how fundamental rights in Europe should work.”

Large companies also “seem to deliberately ignore the situation,” Schrems said. He said he received a letter from Facebook “that says it will continue transferring all the data despite” the ECJ ruling, Schrems told the committee. “I think that’s concerning.”

EU Court Blocks Data Pact Amid Fears Over U.S. Surveillance

EU judges struck down the privacy shield in a surprise ruling in July amid fears of potential U.S. surveillance. The controversy stretched back to 2013, when former contractor Edward Snowden exposed the extent of spying by the U.S. National Security Agency.

The Irish data-protection authority said Schrems’ comments on the letter it had sent to him were “inaccurate and are likely to mislead.”

Facebook declined to comment on Schrems’ remarks.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Aoife White in Brussels at awhite62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net

Christopher Elser

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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