FTC Chair Says Privacy Shield Is Safe, Despite Immigration Order

(Rob Kunzig/Morning Consult)

Acting Federal Trade Commission Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen said Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s immigration order will not in any way affect the FTC’s enforcement of the Privacy Shield, a commercial data-transfer agreement negotiated by the United States and the European Union.

“We will continue to enforce the Privacy Shield protections, and we hope we will move ahead as planned,” the Republican FTC chief told Morning Consult while speaking to a small group of reporters at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event. “In my opinion, nothing has changed.”

Data protection officials across the EU are reportedly worried that the White House immigration order — or its potential follow-ups — could undermine the 2016 EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, a hard-won agreement safeguarding EU residents’ personal data that is collected and stored by U.S. companies. The pact allows for the free flow of consumer information between U.S. and EU borders, and its weakening could negatively affect economic ties.

The Article 29 Working Party — an EU body composed of state data privacy administrators, the European Data Protection Supervisor and the European Commission — plans to formally ask the Trump administration to clarify the order’s effect on the Privacy Shield in the coming days, according to a report from Bloomberg BNA.

At issue is Section 14 of the White House’s January immigration order, which excludes non-citizens from federal agency privacy protections enumerated under the U.S. Privacy Act. That law regulates the government’s collection of information.

Ohlhausen said that because the executive order only mentions the Privacy Act, it is her understanding that it does not affect the FTC’s mandate to regulate data collected through commercial activity. That includes the Privacy Shield, which she expects will remain unchanged.

The chairman said she has not spoken to any EU data administrators about the order’s effect on the Privacy Shield. She is aware of their concerns, as well as Article 29’s intention to send a formal letter to the Trump administration on the issue.

When asked how the FTC could best assuage ongoing EU worries, Ohlhausen said it was important for EU officials to listen to the European Commission’s assertion last month that the immigration order is geared toward the U.S. Privacy Act and should not undermine Privacy Shield protections.

A White House spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. An FTC spokeswoman would not say when asked whether Ohlhausen has spoken directly with the Trump administration about the executive order’s impact on the Privacy Shield.