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The Privacy Advisor | UK ICO: ‘The world is coming together’ on data protection, responsible use Related reading: Denham opens up on G-7 data protection conversations




In her five years as U.K. information commissioner, and as chair of the Global Privacy Assembly, Elizabeth Denham said she has never been so “optimistic” about international data convergence as she is today.

“With the (EU-U.S.) Privacy Shield having been struck down, I see the G-7 countries coming together, I see the G-20 themes coming together, the EU and U.S. conversations about trade and cooperation, and also, the most meaningful change, is that what people want to see in their laws, what people want from enforcement of data protection laws is coming together,” she said. “I think the world is coming together and it’s because people all want the same thing. They want protection of their data and companies and governments around the world want innovation to be supported through responsible use of data. I’m ambitious for all of this, but I’ve never been so optimistic about the world coming together.”

Denham, whose term concludes at the end of October, and ICO General Counsel Claudia Berg joined Sidley Austin Partners Alan Charles Raul and William Long for a conversation on “Governance of Data Innovation: Risks and Rewards for Business.”

Denham, who convened a meeting of data protection authorities from G-7 countries earlier this month, said the leaders are focusing on “data free flow with trust.” She said the goal of the meeting was “to see if we could come to a convergence of ideas and how to promote trust in data protection, trust in data flows going forward.”

Cookies are one area where progress was made, Denham said. Citing “cookie fatigue across the web,” and their lack of “a meaningful promise or meaningful commitment to consent,” Denham said a design solution is needed, with consent being built into devices and browsers.

Denham also discussed the European Commission’s adoption of adequacy decisions for data transfers between the EU and U.K. and whether an adequacy decision will be reached between the U.K. and the U.S. in the future.

“I very much hope that the U.K. grants the U.S. adequacy. That’s what we want. We want data to flow responsibly and with safeguards,” Denham said. “We’re not naïve to the challenges involved, but we’re optimistic about that, and obviously, there is an ambition and a desire to have a trade deal with the U.S. in the not-too-distant future.”

This week, however, EU-U.S. data flow discussions on a potential agreement for a replacement for the shuttered Privacy Shield program hit a snag as EU officials threatened to cancel the Sept. 29 EU-U.S. Trade and Technology Council meeting over issues between the U.S. and France related to a U.S.-U.K. submarine contract with Australia. 

Denham said "the time is right for the world to find a 21st-century solution for data flows for trust and putting people at the center of trade and innovation of digital services." 

She advocated for a Bretton Woods-style conference — citing the 1944 gathering on international commercial and financial relations — bringing together international bodies, think tanks, and others, to rethink data flows and data protections around the world.

“We need to start with some real creative thinking that matches the reality of the digital economy,” she said.

And there needs to be a refocus, she added, as the attention placed on data transfers, particularly in the courts, “has taken our eye off the ball of some of the other real significant risks that are out there.”

“Data and democracy, data and kids online, criminality and data fueled crime online — these are real issues that we need to focus on and so let’s keep our eyes on the prize there and how we protect people,” she said.  

Photo by Juliana Kozoski on Unsplash

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