Greetings from Brussels,
This week I write to you from the annual Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference here in Brussels. The global data protection community and associated stakeholders have converged once again in the city to attend three days of debate across a wide base of privacy, data protection and technological issues. This year, the main theme of the conference is artificial intelligence. Moreover, it is worth noting that this year marks the 10th anniversary of the conference. It has grown considerably since its inception in 2007, when 100 participants enjoyed a two-day event that has now grown to more than 1,000 participants over a three-day period. For my money, next to our IAPP Data Protection Congress, CPDP is the other EU conference on the privacy conference calendar that is a must-attend.
Suffice to say, the program is comprehensive, and there is something for everyone; it's far too much to cover here. However, the general opinion I have been privy to from privacy pros and thought leaders here suggests it’s their best program to date. One particular panel I was interested in, in light of the nascent Trump presidency, was our very own IAPP session on the state of trans-Atlantic privacy in 2017, chaired by IAPP VP of Research and Education Omer Tene. The panel guests were Terrell McSweeny of the Federal Trade Commission and Paul Nemitz of the European Commission. The last time I saw Tene chair a panel with European and U.S. public sector counterparts coincided with the morning we learned of the U.S. election shock result at the IAPP Congress in November. The timing then was surreal; this panel promised to be equally as intriguing.
Naturally, in what concerns trans-Atlantic privacy, and Privacy Shield in particular, the question that everyone wants assurance on is what impact the political upheaval of the Trump election will have on the effectiveness of the Privacy Shield, which is up for review before the summer. The European Commission position is clear: The Shield is in place and should be functioning regardless of the change in U.S. administration. Nemitz accepted that, as with all new governments and administrations, there is often a change in outlook, although he hoped that industry would put in a "good word" with the new administration. Nemitz added that “self-certified statements need to be verified and deemed credible, and the FTC needs to undertake regular checks followed with the appropriate action — we expect companies to demonstrate that Privacy Shield has been adhered to."
McSweeny was understandably limited in being able to make policy statements, given the on-going transition taking place in the U.S. Nevertheless, speaking frankly, if not on behalf of the FTC specifically, she was of the hope that the FTC’s commitments and work toward ensuring an effective Privacy Shield would remain meaningful. With the imminent departure of commissioner Ramirez, the FTC is currently a couple of commissioners shy of their quota of five. It has also been recently announced that President Trump has designated the other remaining Commissioner, Maureen Ohlhausen, as Acting Chairwoman of the FTC; emphasis on the acting, perhaps.
If you weren’t aware, there will a significant shake-up in key political appointees in Washington, which always accompanies a change in presidential administration, to the tune of around 4,000 senior posts. McSweeny reiterated that the FTC is functioning despite a reduction in numbers, and that the commission will continue to be responsive and ensure that commitments are being followed. Furthermore, she cited that the FTC remained committed to doing its own investigations and has already prioritized the resources to ensure appropriate company checks.
The timing of political change in the U.S. could probably not have been more unfavorable for the Privacy Shield, but my sense from Commissioner McSweeny’s comments is that the FTC — as it is currently mandated — remains committed to its agreements and sees a continued role in the global regulatory enforcement community. We will wait and see how the new political environment shapes up to back those statements. You have to think that Privacy Shield mechanisms could well be threatened by the new administration. We will know soon enough.
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