Greetings from Brussels!
I write amidst climbing temperatures this week in Brussels; we’re looking at a high of 38C over the weekend. For our North American readership, that equates to 100.4 F. The temperature is not the only thing going into overdrive; the news here is dominated by the Grexit question: Having defaulted on June 30 to the tune of a 1.6 billion-euro debt repayment to the IMF, the Greek government has now announced, without forewarning, a referendum vote on cash for reforms. Regardless of a “Yes” or “No” vote, it is a risky and potentially catastrophic gamble for all of Europe. You have to ask where this crisis is going to end. With Greek banks at the breaking point, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Greek people—much like the rest of Europe—are starting to ask questions of Tsipras’ radical left Syriza party. Nothing is clear, seemingly even for the Greek government. Like many fellow Europeans, I have watched this crisis unravel and can only hope that our politicians find a sustainable solution in the face of this force majeure as we are running out of time.
In other news and closer to privacy interests, this week the European Parliament’s trade committee (INTA) considered amendments to its position on the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The TTIP has been dubbed a second-generation trade deal seeking to go well beyond conventional tariffs and quotas by strengthening the international order through regulatory cooperation. It is true that over time trade agreements have increasingly become a forum for debating rules and standards between countries and economic areas. International trade negotiations have a far-reaching scope that now covers digital technology and Internet businesses. These negotiations have, therefore, become a new platform for the inclusion and development of Internet-related policies, and with negotiations on telecommunications, online services, regulatory cooperation and e-commerce, there are now significant discussions on the question of limitations of users’ rights and data protection.
Although EU member states requested to exclude the issues of privacy and data protection from the negotiations, these issues nevertheless arise through discussions on data flows. The EU and U.S. come to the table with fundamentally different approaches to legal standards for data protection. On the EU side, data protection and privacy are fundamental rights recognized under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and protected by EU law, while the U.S. lacks comprehensive data protection legislation providing similar rights. The U.S. International Trade Commission considers data protection a “barrier to trade” and seeks to lower data protection standards as a way to increase U.S. export sales in the digital economy. According to the International Trade Commission’s study on digital trade in the U.S. and global economies, the U.S. has a “particular concern” with regard to EU data protection requirements due to their “strictness and difficulty to comply with.”
The finalization of the GDPR may certainly impact U.S. digital business models abroad, and as such, the U.S. is undoubtedly fully conversant on what it would want to see provided for in an eventual TTIP agreement. The EU did concede earlier in the year that international data flows could be part of the TTIP negotiation, but only once the GDPR is agreed. What remains to be seen is whether the GDPR will satisfy the U.S. TTIP expectations. Let us not forget the EU-U.S. trade relationship is the biggest in the world, and the TTIP agreement will cover 40 percent of global GDP. There is arguably a lot at stake.
On a final note, I would like to wish our U.S. readership and membership a splendid 4th of July weekend.
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