On October 23, 2019, the European Commission published a report on its third annual review of the Privacy Shield. The results are generally positive with no immediate risk to the Privacy Shield’s existence (as a regulatory matter) for at least another year. While you can read the full report here, the following serves as a brief summary, which will be reviewed in more detail in the weeks to come.

Recall that the Privacy Shield works together in a closely integrated manner with the GDPR. It is not a separate law or a substitute for GDPR compliance. More specifically, and to use a bit of regulatory jargon (we’ll leave unexplained for now in the interest of brevity), the Privacy Shield serves as what is known as a “partial adequacy decision” falling under Article 45 of the GDPR.

Per the US-EU bilateral agreement that resulted in the Privacy Shield, it is subject to annual review by the relevant authority in the EU. If the review goes badly, it would be an existential threat to the Privacy Shield. Thankfully, that did not happen. It is important to note that, this report is, of course, unrelated to the Schrems II case (which we posted on here) and its anticipated follow-on cases which are likely to judicially challenge the Privacy Shield.

Since there’s a lot of confusion, even amongst some practitioners, about what the Privacy Shield is and how it fits in with GDPR, we always feel it’s a good idea to give a reminder whenever we post on the Privacy Shield. So here goes:

Under the Privacy Shield, U.S.-based companies who self-certify can lawfully receive GDPR-governed personal data from companies based in the European Economic Area. Equally as important, Privacy Shield also signals to the marketplace that your company has what we refer to at the end of this post as the “Pareto Principle” of data security and privacy policies – procedures and programs in place that are not only required by GDPR, but are fairly universal across global regulatory regimes. As a result, Privacy Shield self-certification is definitely a plus, but it is not fatal to your company’s ability to receive personal data from the EEA. If you aren’t Privacy Shield self-certified, it just means you can’t rely on GDPR Article 45 to receive personal data.

Instead, you have to look to GDPR Article 46. That Article enumerates a handful of mechanisms that also can be used to lawfully receive EEA personal data transfers. They range from the so-called Standard Contractual Clauses (which are currently under attack in Schrems II) to a costly and complex mechanism called Binding Corporate Rules.

The key take away from today’s report is this: For the third year in a row, Privacy Shield has proven its viability. Becoming Privacy Shield self-certified is worth considering if your business requires regular receipt of GDPR-governed data. It also has some independent value beyond EEA transfers insofar as it shows your company’s security and privacy practices have at least some minimum level of maturity. As we all know and preach, it is essential in today’s global privacy evolution to ensure the development, implementation and continued monitoring and improvement of sound data security and privacy policies and practices.