EU data protection rights at risk through trade agreements, new study shows

By: Jeff Chester | Jul 13 2016
Strong Safeguards on Privacy and Digital Consumer Protection Required

Researchers of the University of Amsterdam’s Institute for Information Law (IViR) have published an independent study today commissioned by BEUC, EDRi, CDD and TACD. The study shows that the European Union (EU) does not sufficiently safeguard citizens' personal data and privacy rights in its trade agreements.

Modern digital markets rely on the processing of personal data, but regulations on how to protect these differ widely from country to country. A new generation of trade agreements increasingly allows unrestricted data transfers, including personal data, between countries. 

This ground-breaking studysheds light on how trade agreements – for example, the future EU-US trade deal (TTIP) –treat personal data and privacy. By looking at both EU and international law, the researchers conclude that the EU should protect its citizens’ personal data, and prevent their privacy from being weakened in trade agreements. To do so, the EU must take action to safeguard its rules on data protection from legal challenge by its trade partners.

“It’s unacceptable that the EU’s privacy and data protection rules could be challenged through trade policy. Trade deals should not undermine consumers’ fundamental rights and their very trust in the online economy. We’re pleased to see this study clearly echoing the European Parliament’s call to keep rules on privacy and data protection out of trade agreements,” Monique Goyens, Director General of The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), commented.

"The EU has the responsibility to safeguard people's rights to privacy and data protection in trade agreements. The European Union has done a great job at setting high standards for these fundamental rights. This study shows how to ensure these high standards can be maintained when trade agreements are negotiated", said Joe McNamee, Executive Director of European Digital Rights (EDRi).

"The United States is aggressively pushing for a trade deal with the EU that would permit the unprecedented expansion of commercial data collection, threatening both consumers and citizens. America’s data giants want the TTIP to serve as a digital `Trojan Horse’ that effectively sidesteps the EU’s human-rights-based data protection safeguards. This new study is a wake-up call for policy makers and the public: any trade deal must first protect our privacy and ensure consumer protection," added Jeffrey Chester, Executive Director of Center for Digital Democracy (CDD).

"The EU’s opaque and inconsistent system of granting third countries so-called ‘adequacy’ status for transferring personal data of its citizens makes it vulnerable to legal challenge by trade partners. This is an important finding of this study, and particularly relevant in the week when the EU-US much-criticised Privacy Shield, is likely to be approved. The EU must not make some partners more equal than others when deciding on the adequacy of their data protection laws", said Anna Fielder, Senior Policy Advisor of the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD).

Note to editors:

BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation, acts as the umbrella group in Brussels for its 42 national member organisations. Its main task is to represent these members at the European level and defend the interests of all Europe’s consumers. BEUC has a special focus on five areas identified as priorities by its members: Financial Services, Food, Digital Rights, Consumer Rights & Enforcement and Sustainability.

European Digital Rights (EDRi), is an umbrella organisation of 31 civil and human rights organisations from across Europe. Our mission is to promote, protect and uphold civil and human rights in the digital environment.

The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), a U.S.-based NGO, works to protect the privacy and welfare of the public in the “Big Data” digitally driven marketplace. By combining advocacy, industry research, coalition- building, and media outreach, CDD helps hold accountable some of the most powerful forces shaping the destiny of the world—especially those companies that dominant the global Internet landscape.

The Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), is a forum of over 70 EU and US consumer organisations established in 1998 with the goal of promoting the consumer interest in the US and EU policy making.

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