POLYAS Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy

Safe Harbour

Safe Harbour is the name of the EU Commission's decision which allows companies to transfer personal data in accord with the EU Data Protection Directive in the US.

Basically, such data transfer from EU countries to third-party countries is prohibited under provisions of Articles 25 and 26 of the European Data Protection Directive when the third-party country's doesn't operate under a data protection policy comparable to that of the EU. This is the case with the US. In order not to disrupt transfer data between US and the member states of the European Union, the so called "Safe Harbour" arrangement was made. It allows personal data to be transferred to the US from the EU, when the respective US-based companies make sure that the Safe Harbour principles are satisfied and they are listed with the US Department of Commerce. 

The New EU-US-Privacy-Shield

A decision of the European Court of Justice on 6 October 2015 declared the Safe Harbour Decision invalid. The decision reasoned that the companies which have been subject to the Safe Harbour principles could issue data to US security authoritites without any restrictions. Therefore, Safe Harbour did not fulfill its originally intended purpose.

On 2 February 2016 the European Union declared that it has agreed on a new framework for transatlantic data flows with the US. This successor of Safe Harbour will be named "EU-US-Privacy Shield".  The new aspect of this agreement is that the respective companies will be monitored by the US Department of Commerce in the future. In cases of data misuse, companies will be issued penalties and be deleted from the list. Moreover, the establishment of an ombudsman is planned, who will act as a contact person, in case you feel your data protection rights have been violated. The ombudsman should be able to work independently from the US security authoritities. Detailed information and written statemements on EU-US-Privacy-Shield were not yet available at the time this glossary entry was made.

See also: Data Protection, Data Security, Backups, Digital Single Market

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