On Wednesday, February 19, 2020, Google declared that the company has planned to move its British users’ accounts from the jurisdiction of the European Union (EU) privacy regulators and placed them instead under US jurisdiction. According to sources familiar with the plans, the latest move of Alphabet Inc.’s Google LLC (Google) would help British law enforcement to easily access such sensitive personal information of tens of millions of the existing users.
Moving British Users Out of EU Jurisdiction
Google’s plan for shifting the existing British users’ accounts was aimed to avoid EU’s regulators since the UK left the supranational organization in the last month. Under this new plan, Google would require its British users to acknowledge new terms of service including the new jurisdiction. Google said in an emailed statement, “The protections of the UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will still apply to these users.”
The tech company added, “Nothing about our services or our approach to privacy will change, including how we collect or process data, and how we respond to law enforcement demands for users’ information.” Nevertheless, a spokesman at Google declined to answer questions when Reuters approached.
The main attempt of Google was to shift its British users out of Irish jurisdiction because it was yet uncertain whether Britain would follow GDPR or adopted other rules that could affect the handling of user data. Ireland, a country where the major tech companies including Google and other companies have their European headquarters, is still under the application of the EU’s most aggressive data protection rules, the GDPR.
Reuters explained, “If British Google users have their data kept in Ireland, it would be more difficult for British authorities to recover it in criminal investigations.” Likewise Google, Facebook has pursued a similar set-up to avoid excessive European regulation from Ireland.
New Jurisdiction under the US
A source explained Washington’s recent law called Cloud Act would make British authorities to obtain data easily from US companies. Recently, Britain and the United States have been on the verge of settling a border trade agreement as the UK prioritized the largest economy for its post-Brexit economic policy.
Besides that, the US, which has one of the weakest privacy protections of any major economy and the lack of broad law for strict regulations, would be advantages for the British.
Citing the rigorous regulations of the EU, Lea Kissner, Google’s former lead for global privacy technology, said that the company wanted to change its policy as the United Kingdom was no longer a member of the EU.
Kissner also stated, “There’s a bunch of noise about the U.K. government possibly trading away enough data protection to lose adequacy under GDPR, at which point having them in Google Ireland’s scope sounds super-messy… Never discount the desire of tech companies not be caught in between two different governments.” According to sources, other US tech companies are likely to take similar steps in the coming months to avoid European scrutiny.
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