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ICO: We Urgently Need A Bretton Woods For Data

Elizabeth Denham, the UK Information Commissioner at the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is pleading the world leaders to get together and build a new global infrastructure where data can be shared with trust. It is not about creating a global law but laying the pipes and plumming to maximise the data flow, she said.

If we are to unlock the full potential of data innovation and keep the trust, we need an international solution for data sharing, a data Bretton Woods. This is what the UK ICO boss Elizabeth Denham proposed in a webinar hosted by Oxford Institute September 9th 2021.

“Data flows are international, but the checks and balances are domestic and that brings on a lot of problems,” she said and gave the example of multinational companies, who are not following the rules, then the ability of regulators to make them comply are limited.

The Bretton Woods system of monetary management established the rules for commercial and financial relations among the United States, Canada, Western European countries, Australia, and Japan after the 1944 Bretton Woods Agreement. We need that for data, she said and underlined that digital is borderless, data is integral to digital innovation and data flows rely on trust.

“This is not about creating a global law, one law to rule them all. We have to respect the differences, but we need to build the infrastructure to allow those differences. We need the pipes and the plumming to maximise the data flows.”

“And as there is no convergence in the data laws today, there is convergence in expectations form people. Digital citizens expect data protection.”

A new system will help against nations, who today are defaulting to data localisation, she said.

“I am not naive in the challenge I am suggesting here, but the world has come together before. We’ve realised that crime knows no borders, so we work together on that. Also on copyright. I am calling for a re-thinking of ‘data flows with trust’. This is not just a trade issue, it is so broad, so we need to bring all experts to the table.”

She does not necessarily expect the GDPR to be the standard. There are many other possibilities. The EU has adequacy agreements with Canada, New Zealand, Japan, UK, so it does not have to be the GDPR, she said and underlined that the data protection community is ready. Now it is up to politicians to make it happen.