President Biden Signs New Global Privacy Safe-Harbor Order

President Joe Biden's December 21, 2021 speech on COVID-19
President Joe Biden (Image credit: Global TV Via YouTube)

President Joe Biden on Friday signed an executive order implementing a United States-European Union agreement on new cross-border data privacy protections, protections that have been on shifting sands since an international court threw out a previous agreement.

The Executive Order on Enhancing Safeguards for United States Signals Intelligence Activities (opens in new tab) (E.O.) outlines the steps the U.S. is taking under the new EU-U.S. Data Privacy Framework. The framework is essentially a data protection safe harbor for companies that agree to comply with it.

Those steps include providing companies with greater legal certainty by creating an independent and binding process for individuals who believe their personal data was collected in violation of U.S. law. It also mandates handling requirements for personal information and requires U.S. intelligence agencies to update their policies and procedures in line with those new protections.

Allowing digital goods to flow freely across borders is worth $7.1 trillion in commerce between the EU and the U.S., the White House said, and is key to American companies participating in a world economy.

A new agreement was needed after the EU’s Court of Justice ruled the U.S. couldn't live up to its part of agreement to protect data privacy. Concluding that it did not sufficiently protect data transferred from the EU to the U.S. — particularly involving U.S. government intelligence agency access — the Court of Justice in July 2020 invalidated the so-called privacy shield, prompting the EU and U.S. to get to work on a successor agreement that would pass court muster.

Among those welcoming some of that greater certainty when it comes to how data is protected comes from the computer companies vital to those flows.

“Since that EU court ruling, the two economies have been without clear guidelines for data transfers on the most trafficked route on the globe — impacting transactions such as travel reservations, social media communications, and insurance claims that implicate trillions of dollars of annual economic activity," the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) said.

“We appreciate President Biden’s action to keep data flowing between the U.S. and EU, underpinning one of our deepest and most mutually beneficial trading relationships," CCIA president Matt Schruers said. “Data transfers are at the heart of the transatlantic relationship, fueling the trade that keeps both of our economies running and brings benefits to consumers and businesses of all sizes who need legal clarity on mechanisms to transfer data.”

Online advertisers, who rely on free flows of information in which to place their messages, were also pleased with the order.

“Today, the Biden administration has taken a big step forward, announcing stronger protections for data transferred to the U.S. and setting the stage for a final agreement with our allies,” Interactive Advertising Bureau executive VP of public policy Lartease Tiffith said. “Data flows are crucial for the mutual development of medical, cybersecurity and other technologies, as well as media, advertising and consumer goods. With so many disruptions to commerce during the last few years, IAB is excited about this new development to ensure secure cross-border data flows. IAB looks forward to working with the EU and U.S. to fully implement the new agreement.”

BBB National Programs certainly saw a better digital business climate on the horizon.

“At BBB National Programs, we commend the White House, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and their counterparts in the European Commission for lifting the cloud of uncertainty that has been hanging over Privacy Shield for more than two years,” the organization said in a statement. “As the longest-running Independent Recourse Mechanism (IRM) provider, the first recognized under Privacy Shield, trusted for more than 20 years by businesses of all sizes, we view this formal commitment to the EU-U.S. Data Privacy Framework as a huge milestone for the $7 trillion trans-Atlantic economy.”

Jason Oxman, president and CEO of tech trade group the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), said: “Today’s actions will help restore business certainty and safeguard continuity of key business operations as data moves across the Atlantic, while also upholding European citizens’ fundamental rights, and the security and public safety interests of the U.S., EU, and other qualified states. We appreciate the Biden Administration’s attention to this critical issue and look forward to working with the European Union to implement the EU-U.S. Data Privacy Framework over the coming months.” ■

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.