US President Donald Trump may have stripped privacy rights of non-US citizens by signing an executive order that can jeopardise a data transfer framework.

A crucial data sharing agreement between the United States and Europe, known as EU-US Privacy Shield, was formulated for internet giants that do business outside the US. In short, this legalised the transatlantic exchanges of personal data for commercial purposes between the EU and US.

However, an executive order signed by Trump focused on illegal immigrants has a worrying clause which specifically notes that privacy protections would not be extended past US citizens or permanent residents in America.

"Agencies shall, to the extent consistent with applicable law, ensure that their privacy policies exclude persons who are not United States citizens or lawful permanent residents from the protections of the Privacy Act regarding personally identifiable information," reads section 14 of the Enhancing Public Safety order.

This clause contradicts a major protection clause of the Privacy Shield agreement which ensures non-Americans are not treated differently by US organisations, with weaker privacy safeguards.

Meanwhile, the European Commission put out a statement in an effort to calm the situation saying, "We are aware of the executive order on public safety. The US Privacy Act has never offered data protection rights to Europeans."

The commission says regardless of the executive order two pieces of legislation make the Privacy Shield legal under European law:

  • The agreement does not rely on the protections under the US Privacy Act
  • The agreement which will enter into force on 1 February 2017 is protected by the US Judicial Redress Act that was adopted by the US Congress law last year. It extends the benefits of the US Privacy Act to Europeans and gives them access to US courts.

It seems that the privacy rights of at least EU citizens should not be affected, but there has been no response in detail regarding the confusion from the White House so far. Nevertheless, all countries outside the EU, especially those like Canada and Mexico, whose citizens have close proximity to the US either by family relations or economical alliances, are likely to be affected.