U.S. Safe Harbor Wins EU Approval

BRUSSELS (05/31/2000) - The U.S. has become the first country outside of the European Union to win recognition by the representatives of the EU's 15 nations that its rules for protecting data privacy meet the requirements of EU legislation, a spokesman announced today.

"This morning the member states overwhelmingly approved the terms of the safe harbor arrangement with the United States," Jonathan Todd, a European Commission spokesman, said at the daily EU news briefing.

He explained that during a morning meeting of the so-called "Article 31 Committee" on data privacy set up by EU legislation, member state representatives approved a Commission recommendation acknowledging the adequacy of U.S. rules based on the so-called safe harbor principles. According to the safe harbor principles agreed upon by the EU nations, countries outside of the EU that provide adequate data privacy -- privacy that is commensurate with EU privacy safeguards and laws -- may receive information from databases maintained in the EU.

The European Parliament must still give its opinion on the agreement, but only the Article 31 Committee could have overturned the Commission's favorable recommendation. Once the Parliament has provided its opinion, the Commission will formally adopt the recommendation. The entire process should be complete by early July, Todd said.

Although there had been some concerns about the Committee vote, earlier this week EU and U.S. officials who asked not to be identified had down-played the risks that opposition from certain member states -- notably Italy, Austria and Spain -- would block approval. They admitted that there might be a delay in the vote, but nothing more dramatic.

Similar classifications for Switzerland and Hungary will follow before the end of the year, but recognition of the Japanese and Australian data privacy systems could take longer, according to the Commission.

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