Brexit could disrupt data sharing – House of Lords report

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Data sharing between the UK and EU could be disrupted after Brexit if standards are allowed to diverge, a House of Lords report warns.

Such disruption could present a non-tariff trade barrier and hinder law enforcement co-operation, the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee says.

Its chairman, Lord Jay, voiced concern over lack of detail in Government plans to maintain unhindered data flows.

It called for guarantees the UK would continue to meet shared standards.

The sub-committee is charged with scrutinising proposed EU legislation on home affairs, health and education.

It and the other five sub-committees of the House of Lords EU Committee are investigating key issues expected to arise in the negotiations over Brexit.

Formal negotiations resumed in Brussels on Monday when Brexit Secretary David Davis called on both sides to “get down to business”.

“The volume of data stored electronically and moving across borders has grown hugely over the last 20 years,” Lord Jay said.

“Between 2005 and 2012 alone, internet traffic across borders increased 18-fold. The maintenance of unhindered data flows is therefore crucial, both for business and for effective police co-operation.”

Three-quarters of the UK’s cross-border data flows are with EU countries, according to the report.

The sub-committee, Lord Jay said, was concerned that EU and UK data protection rules could diverge over time after the UK had left the EU.

‘Too early to say’

The report accepts that the Government has been “unequivocal about the need to maintain stability and ensure ‘unhindered’ and ‘uninterrupted’ data flows between the UK and the EU post-Brexit” but says it must take action sooner.

When asked how the Government intended to achieve its goal of unbroken data flows, Matt Hancock MP, minister of state for digital, told the sub-committee there were “many different ways this could work” but he did “not want to stress any particular option”.

Baroness Williams, minister of state at the Home Office, suggested it was “too early to say what the future arrangements might look like”.

In response, the sub-committee recommends securing an “adequacy decision” for the UK – a ruling by the European Commission that a non-EU country has ensured an adequate level of protection of personal data and no further safeguards are required.

Lord Jay also urged the Government to secure a continuing role for the UK’s information watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office, on the European Data Protection Board.

The report notes the UK has a track record of influencing EU rules on data protection and retention, and risks losing its influence after Brexit.

The UK is scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March 2019, following last year’s referendum, though the departure date may be extended if all 28 EU members agree.