US-UK Forge Path to Digital Future

by | Jul 5, 2024

In an era where data is frequently hailed as the “new oil,” the seamless exchange and protection of information across borders has emerged as a cornerstone of modern diplomacy and economic strategy. Acknowledging the critical role of data in addressing global challenges, the United States and the United Kingdom have made significant strides towards deepening their collaboration in this domain. On December 8, 2021, US Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo and UK Secretary for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Nadine Dorries announced a joint commitment to enhance the longstanding cross-border data partnership between the two nations.

The bilateral statement issued by the US and UK highlights the potential value of the data ecosystem in tackling issues such as public safety, national security, and law enforcement. Both countries stress the importance of maintaining high standards of trust and data protection rights while facilitating cross-border data flows. This delicate balance between data accessibility and protection is central to the innovative approach to international data transfers that the UK is championing.

A primary challenge identified by both governments is the development of a comprehensive data partnership agreement that remains interoperable and can facilitate cross-border data flows without compromising data protection standards. Incompatible data protection regimes could risk halting international data flows, thereby impeding efforts to address global challenges effectively. To mitigate this risk, the US and UK have committed to engaging with international partners, industry, civil society, and consumer privacy rights groups to navigate this complex landscape.

The UK has proactively addressed potential risks associated with data sharing agreements, particularly the issue of “onward transfers.” Onward transfers occur when personal data exchanged between two countries with a data sharing agreement is subsequently transferred to a third country that lacks an agreement with one of the original partners. To tackle this, the UK has developed a new approach to international data transfers, which includes a manual for assessing potential partners for data adequacy decisions and efforts to create common and interoperable principles on data sharing. This strategy aims to reassure existing and new partners about the handling of their citizens’ data, thereby fostering trust and facilitating digital trade.

The joint announcement by the US and UK has been welcomed by techUK, an organization representing the technology industry in the UK. TechUK has encouraged the UK Government to leverage its G7 leadership and ambitions under the National Data Strategy to champion the international flow of data. This strategy seeks to foster multilateral dialogue and shared approaches to adequacy and cross-border data flows, which are essential for establishing a sustainable foundation for future digital trade between the UK, EU, US, and the wider global economy.

Partnerships such as the one between the US and UK offer the opportunity to develop sustainable models for international data flows that benefit businesses, facilitate innovation, and maintain high global standards for data protection. Regular engagement with industry is crucial for understanding how approaches to adequacy can best serve businesses and encourage international partnerships. The UK Government’s recent data reform consultation has provided a valuable platform for industry engagement, and techUK is supportive of the Government’s intention to adopt a more risk and outcomes-based approach to adequacy and international data flows.

In addition to the bilateral data partnership, the US and UK have also announced plans to collaborate on prize challenges aimed at advancing privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs). PETs provide more secure ways to share sensitive information while preserving data protection rights. Early use cases of PETs have demonstrated their potential in addressing real-life challenges, such as combating financial crime. The initiative, which is part of a series of International Grand Challenges on Democracy-Affirming Technologies, aims to bring innovators from the US and UK together to address technical gaps and barriers to PET adoption.

This collaboration on PETs has been welcomed by techUK and its members, who view it as a positive blueprint for future bilateral and multilateral partnerships. The initiative aligns with the UK Government’s intention to boost the development and uptake of PETs under the policy framework for the National Data Strategy. By working together, the US and UK can lay strong foundations for collaboration in this technology area, ultimately enhancing data protection and innovation.

The deepening of the US-UK data partnership underscores the enduring special relationship between the two countries. By working together to develop interoperable data protection frameworks and advance privacy-enhancing technologies, the US and UK are setting a precedent for international collaboration in the digital age. This partnership not only addresses immediate challenges but also paves the way for a more secure and innovative future, where data can be harnessed to drive progress while safeguarding individual rights.

The US-UK collaboration on data marks a significant milestone in the quest to build a robust and resilient digital ecosystem. Through joint efforts to develop comprehensive data protection agreements, advance privacy-enhancing technologies, and foster international dialogue, the partnership aims to create a sustainable foundation for future digital trade and innovation. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, the ability to share and protect data across borders will be crucial for addressing global challenges and unlocking the full potential of the digital economy. By working together, the US and UK are leading the way in creating a more secure and prosperous digital future for all.