EU-U.S. Data Pact Talks Intensify as Deadline Looms

(Bloomberg) -

European Union negotiators said they’re hopeful of clinching a last-minute deal with their U.S. counterparts on a new pact governing Trans-Atlantic data transfers before companies are thrown into legal limbo.

While time is running out, EU officials have said a deal is feasible by Monday’s deadline as officials from the Department of Commerce, the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. national intelligence representatives arrived in Brussels for face-to-face talks.

“We are approaching what we hope is the last mile of the negotiations with a constructive spirit,” Bruno Gencarelli, head of the data protection unit at the European Commission, said during a brief appearance at an event in Brussels Wednesday before he went back to the negotiating table.

The two sides were forced back to the drawing board after the EU’s top judges blocked an earlier agreement dating back to 2000 — saying it failed to offer safeguards to EU citizens when U.S.-based companies process personal data on customers, from billing information to the content of messages.

The EU demanded reassurances about spies’ access to data and a pledge from U.S. authorities to follow up on complaints. But talks hit the buffers after some U.S. officials voiced concerns the EU would tone down its demands after the tragedy in Paris gave a deadly reminder of what can happen when intelligence fails, people familiar with the discussions said this month.

EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said last week the bloc wouldn’t accept just any deal, and would demand a “comprehensive arrangement with clear legal commitments can ensure the level of data protection Europeans are entitled to under EU law.”

A big issue for American negotiators has been the EU’s demands for equivalent privacy protections on both sides of the Atlantic.

“The U.S. has constitutional and statutory protections, both for national security and for law enforcement access, much of which does not exist here in Europe,” Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill said at a privacy event in Brussels Thursday. “One could argue” that “actually the U.S. has gone further” than merely being deemed equivalent to the EU.

Still, “there are a lot of very good proposals on the table,” said Brill. “There is absolutely a path to yes, and we need to get to yes.”

The EU will work toward a deal by Monday at the latest, Paul Nemitz, another European Commission official from the talks, said at an event in Brussels Thursday. The aim is to present it to lawmakers from the 28-nation bloc and also to governments that evening, he said.

The following day they would present any accord to EU data protection watchdogs, who will gather in Brussels Feb. 2 to discuss multiple “enforcement actions” if no “appropriate solution” is found by then.