Here at the IAPP Data Protection Congress in Brussels, Belgium, this morning, attendees watched newly elected President Donald Trump's acceptance speech at 8:30 a.m. local time, just before the keynote addresses began. The election results colored much of the morning plenary, in fact. As regulators from the EU and the U.S. took the stage, IAPP VP of Research Omer Tene didn’t waste time addressing the news: What will a Trump presidency mean for data protection, privacy and the delicate relationship between EU and U.S.?
Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez called the election results “stunning” and “unexpected” and acknowledged that a change in presidential administrations will always shift the approach taken on diplomacy and key initiatives. But, she said, she doesn’t fear or foresee an unraveling of the progress that’s been made between the U.S. and EU under the Obama administration as a result of the political turnover. The FTC, she said, is an independent and bipartisan agency, after all.
“Historically there has been less of a swing across administrations when it comes to agency priorities, so, there’s no question in my mind that even in the face of a change in leadership, these issues will continue to be important,” she said, naming the Privacy Shield as among the top prioties.
Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, head of the Article 29 Working Party as well as the French data protection authority CNIL, said she and her European counterparts have developed close contacts with U.S. agencies including the FTC and the Department of Commerce and said she hopes such relationships will continue to be pursued under Trump.
“This is something of great value, the relationship we have developed between our two countries on privacy,” she said. “It’s a common subject we have together, and I hope the new administration is going to carry along the same lines.”
She said the lesson learned from the surprise of Trump’s ascent is that we can’t always look at numbers and figures as fact. The polls were all trending toward a Hillary Clinton win. Organizations, often relying on algorithms and big data to make decisions, should take heed and make sure they have privacy professionals in place to watch for irregularities.
“Human nature is a bit more complex,” she said.
Ramirez agreed the election exemplifies the dangers of decision-making based on big data.
"In the U.S., there will be a very close self-examination over what went wrong when we try to evaluate public opinion." —FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez
“The outcome of our election really does demonstrate we have to be very careful,” she said. “We’ve become enamored with big data and algorithms, we have to be careful when it comes to the conclusions one draws from big data analytics … We need to take a hard look at this. In the U.S., there will be a very close self-examination over what went wrong when we try to evaluate public opinion.”
European Data Protection Supervisor Giovanni Buttarelli echoed his peers. He said it’s important to develop the right kind of rules to make big data effective, and that doesn’t mean just laws.
“We have a lot of homework in terms of joint review of existing legal instruments,” he said.
The regulators will in fact be reviewing one very important legal instrument in just six months time, when the first joint review of the Privacy Shield is conducted.
Buttarelli said the EU is still not 100 percent satisfied with the data-transfer mechanism and hinted it may go before a court in the future for legal scrutiny.
Falque-Pierrotin called the forthcoming review critical.
“At this meeting, we will estimate if the commitments of the U.S. government are real, are effective, in reality or not,” she said.
The Article 29 Working Party’s main concerns on the agreed deal surround the role of the ombudsman, who will help resolve disputes raised by EU citizens over their data, as well as mass data collection.
“In front of these concerns, the U.S. administration has taken some commitments, so the question now is are these commitments real, effective, and proved through metrics or not?” she said.
Ramirez made clear that the U.S. isn’t taking its part of the deal lightly.
“I can certainly tell you from the American perspective that the commitment to Privacy Shield is absolutely real and sincere,” she said. “I can say first-hand the significant effort taken with the Department of Commerce and the European Commission to negotiate what we believe is a robust framework that will ultimately stand the test of time.”
As the U.S. digests the news today and Washington, DC, prepares for a Trump administration, whether it lasts or not is a question that remains to be answered.
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