What is the deal with Safe Harbour and why does it matter?

What is Safe Harbour?

Safe Harbour is a policy agreement formed in 2000 between the EU and the US to set the requirements for storing and transferring protected data safely across borders. Safe Harbour set the security and privacy rules which US companies needed to comply with in order to transfer data from Europe to US data centers and thus created a certainty for businesses.

In 2015, the European Court of Justice ruled the European Commission’s trans-Atlantic data protection agreement invalid because it does not adequately protect consumers and gave the EU and US until 31 January 2016 to agree on a new deal otherwise the ruling would be enforced. The EU and US reached a political agreement on 2 February 2016 and announced the new framework replacing Safe Harbour, the EU-US Privacy Shield.

What has changed in EU-US Privacy Shield?

The EU Commission emphasised the following new elements of the framework:

  • Strong obligations on companies handling Europeans' personal data and robust enforcement.
  • Clear safeguards and transparency obligations on U.S. government access.
  • Effective protection of EU citizens' rights with several redress possibilities.

What does this mean?

The announcement paints a nice picture but lacks substance. Experts take it as a political move to gain some breathing space to strike a deal with the US and it's hard to argue with this observation. It will prevent the European Court of Justice's rule to be enforced thus upkeep the status quo.

Why does it matter?

There are over 4000 US companies, including such giants as Facebook and Google, affected by the uncertain legal situation. Until the European Court of Justice approves the new framework, companies transferring data across borders can't sit back and assume everything is fine. To completely negate any possible backlash, the best course of action for any involved company would be to work with European hosting providers to store data generated in the EU or set up data centers themselves in the region.


As a UK-based company with 10 data centers around the world - 3 of which are in Europe - ElasticHosts is fully equipped to provide cloud computing services for businesses operating in the EU. Our data center in Canada offers the same benefits for protected data for our customers in North America.

For more information, check out our pricing page or contact our 24/7 expert support team.

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