International Data Transfers: New Commission Decisions on Standard Contractual Clauses and Adequacy Decisions

As reported in my blog, the European Commission revised both the current decisions on the EU standard contractual clauses (EU Model Clauses) as well as the adequacy decisions on the level of protection of personal data in third countries. In the course of these adjustments, which the European Commission had to discuss with the representatives of the Member States in the so-called Article 31 Committee, the Commission has, inter alia, stated that the decisions in force concerning the standard contract clauses and also the adequacy of the level of protection in Third countries, in their current version are unlawful.

The two new decisions by the European Commission are based on the judgement of the ECJ in its Safe Harbor ruling (C-362/14). The judges found, inter alia, that current provisions in the decisions for the adequacy in third countries as well as the EU Model Clauses restrict the powers of the national supervisory authorities and such a restriction by the Commission is not allowed. The Commission therefore exceeds its competence with its decisions currently in force.

On 15 November, Article 31 Committee met to discuss and vote on the draft decisions to amend the provisions in force. The Commission’s Decisions for the adaptation of the adequacy decisions and the EU standard contractual clauses were available on the website of the EU Comitology Register last week. Unfortunately, the draft decisions are currently not available any more. I hope that the two decisions will be published shortly on the official website for international data transfers of the European Commission.

According to the summary record of the meeting on 15 November, the Article 31 Committee delivered a positive opinion on the two draft implementing decisions (txt).

In terms of content, the adjustments that are to be made to the respective decisions are quite similar. In each case, the article which makes the exercise of the powers of the supervisory authorities (in particular the prohibition of the transfer of data to a third country) conditional on the fulfillment of certain requirements will be deleted. In the decisions on the standard contract clauses (2001/497/EC, 2010/87/EC) Article 4 is replaced by a revised Article 4. The additional preconditions for the prohibition of data transfers will be deleted and the Member States will now only be obliged to notify the Commission if a supervisory authority forbids the transfer of data to a third country.

No substantive changes are made to the standard contract clauses themselves. Therefore, from my point of view, the standard contract clauses that have been used by companies so far can also be used further. However, one will recognize that recital 11 of decision 2010/87/EC and recital 15 of decision 2001/497/EC which refer to the ban of transfers by the authorities, will not be amended or repealed. Bit still, I think that currently used EU Model Clauses will not be affected.

The amendments to the various adequacy decisions also relate, in particular, to the lifting or replacement of an article which made the prohibition of the transfer of data to the third country subject to certain conditions (in each case Article 3). In addition, there is a new Article 3a which obliges the Commission to monitor continuously the development of the legal situation in the respective third country concerned in order to examine whether such a development affects existing adequacy decisions.

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