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UK devising EU-alternative mechanism for global data sharing

The mechanism will replace the soon-to-be invalid EU standard contractual clauses

The UK’s data regulator is working on developing its own transfer mechanism for businesses intent on sharing data internationally, which many businesses will eventually come to rely on now Britain has left the EU.

From this summer, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) will be consulting with organisations and other data protection practitioners on replacing the EU's standard contractual clauses (SCCs) currently in place.

SCCs are a mechanism the EU devised to allow organisations to lawfully and securely transfer personal data from member states to those countries outside of the bloc, where data adequacy agreements have yet to be established.

UK businesses are still allowed to use these EU-created SCCs, despite the UK having moved beyond the Brexit transitionary period. However, the EU is currently drafting a new form of SCCs, set to launch later this year, which will replace the current mechanisms and will be invalid for international transfer from the UK.

To address this, the ICO is planning to issue its own form of transfer mechanism this year that will match the EU’s in terms of compliance and security, and ensure data can continue to flow without disruption.

“I think we recognise that standard contractual clauses are one of the most heavily used transfer tools in the UK GDPR, and we’ve always sought to help organisations use them effectively with guidance,” said Steve Wood, the ICO’s deputy commissioner and executive director for regulatory strategy.

“What I can confirm today is the ICO is working on bespoke UK standard clauses for international transfers, and we intend to go out for consultation on those in the summer. We’re also considering the value to the UK for us to recognise transfer tools from other countries, so standard data transfer agreements, so that would include the EU’s standard contractual clauses as well.”

Wood revealed the ICO’s plans at its Data Protection Practioner’s Conference during a panel discussion. He was joined by several others, including its COO and deputy CEO Paul Arnold, as well as director for regulatory strategy (international), Paula Hothersall.

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With the UK’s data-sharing terms with the US under much debate too, and speculation rife about how this relationship may evolve, Hothersall revealed the current arrangements with the US are unchanged from those in place prior to Brexit.

There are, however, conversations between the ICO and its counterparts abroad as to whether data protection authorities can establish some common ground, or a set of core principles, to achieve a degree of interoperability in the future.

Hothersall added that the ICO is engaging with groups such as the Global Privacy Assembly and the OECD to find areas of agreement.

Although the UK has secured a provisional data adequacy decision, there are concerns within the EU as well as among privacy campaigners that the UK will seek to diverge from GDPR in a meaningful way.

Specifically, campaigners have expressed concern the UK will seek to align more closely with the US, where data protection laws are less stringent and allow for more invasive surveillance.

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