Key State Department Vacancy Unsettles Relations with Europe

A key vacancy in the State Department is creating discord between the European Union and United States over a new agreement affecting thousands of U.S. companies that do business in Europe, The Hill reports.

The agreement, known as the privacy shield, allows businesses to swiftly ship personal data across the Atlantic, affecting huge numbber of U.S. companies, from Facebook and Apple to Netflix and Google. Without the shield, companies that operate in Europe would have to enter into special contracts to transfer personal data.

The Hill adds that EU officials are worried that the Trump administration has yet to nominate an ombudsman at the State Department to oversee complaints from Europeans about the access U.S. national security agencies may have to their data.

“This is a very clear-cut requirement from our side,” European Commissioner for Justice Vera Jourová told The Hill, adding that “U.S. officials are aware that this is one of the important issues for the EU”.

Jourová told also said that her talks with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and other U.S. officials left her “cautiously optimistic”.

The Hill comments that there are no signs that the vacant position could derail the agreement, but it has become a growing point of contention on the European side. The U.S.-EU privacy shield replaced the defunct Safe Harbor agreement struck down by the European Court of Justice over lack of sufficient data protections. About 2,400 companies are now participating in the voluntary program.

Though officials on both sides of the Atlantic say the deal boosted privacy protections, it has generated skepticism in Europe over privacy, with EU’s top data watchdog repeatedly raising concerns.

Establishing a Privacy Shield Ombudsperson with a direct line to the secretary of State was supposed to appease critics of the deal. However, it could remain empty for months, even in the event of a swift nomination, given the often lengthy confirmation process for Trump nominees in the Senate, The Hill comments.

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