By Faye Cheung, Researcher
28th January 2021 marked the 40th anniversary of the Council of Europe’s ‘Convention 108′, the only international treaty on privacy. Ahead of this year’s Data Protection Day, Věra Jourová, Vice-President for Values and Transparency, and Didier Reynders, Commissioner for Justice, issued a statement about the importance of privacy. The statement emphasised the importance of international agreements and shows that such agreements are high on their agenda. In particular, due to the result of the Schrems II case in July 2020, the EU are prioritising working with the new U.S administration to ensure EU standards of protection are guaranteed for EU personal data. The EU will also soon be finalising adequacy discussions with South Korea and are also working on adequacy decisions with other countries, including, of course, the UK.
The UK’s Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, also used Data Protection Day 2021 to consider the role that data protection regimes in other countries play in the UK both for the general public and for business:
‘International privacy standards are so valuable in our increasingly borderless digital world. Firstly, they provide UK citizens with reassurance that their data is protected when they use apps or services provided by companies outside of the UK. And secondly, by agreeing baseline standards we grow the global digital economy and provide opportunities for UK innovators.’
Essentially, domestic data protection regimes may always have limitations if the countries it works with are not meeting similar standards. This is a concern for individuals and their privacy and more widely for economic growth. Businesses who rely on receiving or sending data abroad will struggle to conduct business efficiently if their countries and the countries they work with all have differing standards of data protection. Brexit and Schrems II has highlighted the importance of compatibility across borders for business. The Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, suggests that this is not necessarily just an issue for governments to address. Rather, international organisations should play a greater role in driving high privacy standards around the world. Denham suggests that International organisations like the World Bank can help to influence countries that may not yet have data protection laws. Denham argues that such organisations should be championing privacy rights in the same way that they champion environmental rights, transparency and equal opportunities. 
It is hoped that improvements to data protection and privacy rights will continue to increase around the world for the sake of individual safety and for the sake international business growth. However, the key challenge will be in agreeing on that ‘baseline’ of standards and in enforcing it. In this ‘increasingly borderless digital world’, the decisions that the EU make this year with the U.S, South Korea, the UK and other countries will be very significant.
© Naomi Korn Associates, 2021. Some Rights Reserved. The text is licensed for use under a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike Licence (CC BY SA)
Disclaimer: The material in this blog post is for general information only and is not legal advice. Always consult a qualified lawyer about a specific legal problem.