The Data Protection Act 1998 prohibits the transfer of personal data to non-European Union countries unless those countries meet the EU “adequacy” standard for privacy protection. Although both the US and EU profess to similar goals of protecting individuals’ privacy, their actual approaches are quite different.
As a result, the US Department of Commerce consulted with the European Commission, and developed the “Safe Harbor” framework – a cross-border data transfer mechanism that complies with European data protection laws and allows businesses to move personal data from the EU to the United States. There is a similar but separate framework between the US and Switzerland.
To join the Safe Harbor framework, a company self-certifies to the Department of Commerce that it complies with seven data privacy principles (notice, choice, onward transfer, security, data integrity, access and enforcement) and that it meets the EU adequacy standard. This self-certification needs to be renewed annually. If a company fails to complete the annual re-certification process in time, the organisation’s certification is changed to “not current”.
The Federal Trade Commission addresses any violations – indeed on 21st January 2014, the FTC identified twelve companies who claimed in their marketing material that they currently complied with the US – EU Safe Harbor Framework, but who had allowed their certification to expire. The twelve companies range from technology, consumer products and accounting – as well as National Football League teams.
To “set an example” and to help ensure the ongoing integrity of the Safe Harbor framework, the twelve companies have been prohibited from misrepresenting the extent to which they participate in any privacy or security programme sponsored by the government or any other self-regulatory or standard-setting organisation (including the Safe Harbor Framework).
It is worth noting that agreeing to adhere to the Safe Harbor Frameworks is a permanent undertaking in that an organisation must continue to apply the Safe Harbor Privacy Principles to personal data obtained through the Safe Harbour Frameworks for as long as the organisation stores, uses or discloses the data, even if the organisation has left the Safe Harbor.
There is a Safe Harbor list, which anybody can check to verify an organisation’s status: https://safeharbor.export.gov/list.aspx
If you are planning to transfer data between the EU and the US, and would like us to help you, just call Michelle or Victoria on 01787 277742 or email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org