The City Law School’s Professor of International Economic Law says it appears that in terms of its international trade agreements, the UK has prioritized data flow over the protection of privacy.
Professor of International Economic Law, Professor David Collins, gave oral evidence to the House of Commons’ International Trade Committee on March 10th.
In response to the Committee’s inquiry into digital trade and data, Professor Collins addressed issues relating to digital trade (digitally enabled, or digitally delivered, trade in goods and services involving the flow or movement of data) and data provisions in Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).
During the oral evidence session, Professor Collins mentioned that the digital trade chapter of the new UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and the Comprehensive Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) contains some provisions designed to safeguard data privacy, including a requirement that signatory parties maintain robust data protection laws domestically.
However, he also said that the CEPA’s and CPTPP’s requirements to ensure the free flow of data and to prohibit data localization leave little room for privacy-oriented exemptions to these obligations.
Professor Collins added that the public policy exemptions in the CEPA’s and CPTPP’s digital trade chapters mirror that of the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and are very narrow, requiring that the breach of free transfer or localization rules is necessary to safeguard privacy – essentially meaning that it is the only way to fulfil the desired goal.
It remains to be seen how such an exemption would be interpreted under the two treaties arbitration dispute settlement, but it would seem as though the UK has prioritized data flow over the protection of privacy in terms of its international trade agreements. While this could be beneficial for innovation and commerce, it could jeopardize UK citizen’s rights over their personal data held by private firms.
The International Trade Committee is appointed by the House of Commons to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Department for International Trade and its associated public bodies.
To watch the whole Parliamentary Committee session please visit this weblink.