Thanks to the NSA, Data Sharing With Europe Just Got a Little Harder

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


The long arm of Edward Snowden just got a little longer today:

Europe’s highest court on Tuesday struck down an international agreement that had made it easy for companies to move people’s digital data between the European Union and the United States. The ruling, by the European Court of Justice, could make it more difficult for global technology giants — including the likes of Amazon and Apple, Google and Facebook — to collect and mine online information from their millions of users in the 28-member European Union.

So what does this have to do with Snowden? Since 2000, a “Safe Harbor” agreement has allowed US companies to store personal data on European nationals as long as the companies comply with a specific set of rules to minimize abuse. At the time, it was commercial abuse that everyone had in mind. Today it’s government abuse:

Tuesday’s decision stems from a complaint lodged in 2013 by Austrian privacy activist Max Schrems over Facebook’s compliance with EU data-privacy rules. In his charge filed to the Irish data-protection authority, the U.S. social-media company’s lead regulator in Europe, Mr. Schrems claimed that allegations by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden showed Facebook wasn’t sufficiently protecting users’ data because it is subject to mass surveillance in the U.S.

There are workarounds for this, but they’re complicated and burdensome. What’s more, efforts to reach an updated agreement will be difficult since the court ruling allows privacy regulators in every country to set up their own rules. This means that negotiations with the EU almost certainly have to include every national regulator who wants a voice, since each one can essentially veto an agreement in their own country.

Alternatively, the US could announce major reforms to its NSA spying programs. Just kidding, of course. We all know that’s unpossible.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.