EU And Japan Agree To Free Data Flows, Just As Tottering Privacy Shield Framework Threatens Transatlantic Transfers

from the cooperation-not-confrontation dept

The EU's strong data protection laws affect not only how personal data is handled within the European Union, but also where it can flow to. Under the GDPR, just as was the case with the preceding EU data protection directive, the personal data of EU citizens can only be sent to countries whose privacy laws meet the standard of "essential equivalence". That is, there may be differences in detail, but the overall effect has to be similar to the GDPR, something established as part of what is called an "adequacy decision". Just such an adequacy ruling by the European Commission has been agreed in favor of Japan:

This mutual adequacy arrangement will create the world's largest area of safe transfers of data based on a high level of protection for personal data. Europeans will benefit from strong protection of their personal data in line with EU privacy standards when their data is transferred to Japan. This arrangement will also complement the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement, European companies will benefit from uninhibited flow of data with this key commercial partner, as well as from privileged access to the 127 million Japanese consumers. With this agreement, the EU and Japan affirm that, in the digital era, promoting high privacy standards and facilitating international trade go hand in hand. Under the GDPR, an adequacy decision is the most straightforward way to ensure secure and stable data flows.

Before the European Commission formally adopts the latest adequacy decision, Japan has agreed to tighten up certain aspects of its data protection laws by implementing the following:

A set of rules providing individuals in the EU whose personal data are transferred to Japan, with additional safeguards that will bridge several differences between the two data protection systems. These additional safeguards will strengthen, for example, the protection of sensitive data, the conditions under which EU data can be further transferred from Japan to another third country, the exercise of individual rights to access and rectification. These rules will be binding on Japanese companies importing data from the EU and enforceable by the Japanese independent data protection authority (PPC) and courts.

A complaint-handling mechanism to investigate and resolve complaints from Europeans regarding access to their data by Japanese public authorities. This new mechanism will be administered and supervised by the Japanese independent data protection authority.

It is precisely these areas that are proving so problematic for the data flow agreement between the EU and the US, known as the Privacy Shield framework. As Techdirt has reported, the European Commission is under increasing pressure to suspend Privacy Shield unless the US implements it fully -- something it has failed to do so far, despite repeated EU requests. Granting adequacy to Japan is an effective way to flag up that other major economies don't have any problems with the GDPR, and that the EU can turn its attention elsewhere if the US refuses to comply with the terms of the Privacy Shield agreement.

The new data deal with Japan still has several hurdles to overcome before it goes into effect. For example, the European Data Protection Board, the EU body in charge of applying the GDPR, must give its view on the adequacy ruling, as must the civil liberties committee of the European Parliament -- the one that has just called for Privacy Shield to be halted. Nonetheless, the European Commission will be keen to adopt the adequacy decision, not least to show that countries are still willing to reduce trade barriers, rather than to impose them, as the US is currently doing.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+


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