Irish politicking delays Israeli EU Data Protection Deal

Objections by the Republic of Ireland last week delayed a deal between the State of Israel and the European Union over the transfer of personal data relating to EU citizens.

As Datonomy readers know, data export rules to safeguard EU citizens’ personal data only permit the transfer of such data out of the EU to countries that are deemed to have adequate data protection laws which are effectively akin to the standards adhered to by all EU member states. By entering into a “data adequacy agreement” with another country, the EU officially recognises that such country’s data protection regime is suitably robust at protecting EU citizens’ personal data. Data adequacy agreements are attractive to countries because they help to promote trade and commerce between such countries and the EU, removing the need for organisations which are transferring personal data out of an EU member state to seek approval to the transfer from the data protection authority in that EU member state.

The EU has currently entered into such arrangements with Argentina, Canada, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, Jersey, Switzerland and the Faroe Islands thereby confirming that they have adequate data protection laws.

The deal with Israel was expected to be approved by all the EU member states on written notice without any significant discussion but Ireland was the sole objector. Irish justice minister Dermot Ahern cited the following grounds for its objection, namely that Israel’s current data protection law only applies to automated processing and not manual processing and further that Israel’s data protection commissioner was “located in the ministry of justice and not at arm’s length“.

Israel has suggested that the Irish objection to the deal is more likely a political gesture made in relation to Ireland’s continuing anger that eight fake Irish passports were used by those accused of killing a suspected Hamas terrorist, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel earlier this year. Ireland blames the Israeli secret service “Mossad” for the killing although Israel has repeatedly stated that there is no proof that Israeli covert forces were involved.

An Israeli diplomat told the EU Observer website (http://euobserver.com/24/30785) that the data protection objection by Ireland was a clear case of an EU member state trying to unfairly link closer Israeli relations with the EU to progress with the Middle East peace process. He said: “We have always been in favour of strengthening relations between Israel and the EU and of closer institutional dialogue, including on the Middle East peace process, but also a whole range of issues – co-operation on science, the environment and culture. But unfortunately there are certain member states that insist on creating this linkage between overall relations and the peace process. Our belief is that such a link does not serve either Israel or the EU, as a contributor to the process.

The Irish objections are likely only to have stalled a deal between Israel and the EU, with the EU justice commissioner’s spokesman, Matthew Newman, stating that the European Commission would seek further clarification on the points raised by Ireland and insisting that the proposed data adequacy agreement was “not blocked“.

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