U.K.-EU Data Flows Face Their Own Brexit Brinkmanship

While Brexit talks remain on a knife’s edge, the European Union is “intensively working” on how to legally guarantee the continued flow of data across the English Channel when Britain leaves the EU for real at the end of the year.

The European Commission is still aiming to issue a so-called adequacy decision, which would provide companies with “legal certainty” to continue shipping data between the 27-nation bloc and Britain after Dec. 31, the EU official in charge of data flows said at an online event Tuesday.

“This is a separate track from the negotiations on a possible future partnership that are today in a particular, delicate, uncertain phase,” said the commission’s Bruno Gencarelli.

Without a decision from the EU by the end of the year endorsing U.K. privacy protections, companies would be thrown into legal limbo. At the risk of hefty fines under the EU’s strict data protection rules, U.K. companies that rely on data flows to and from the bloc would have to quickly find legal work-arounds, involving more paperwork.

“It is in our mutual interests for the EU to complete its data adequacy assessment of the U.K. by the end of 2020,” John Whittingdale, U.K. minister of state for media and data, said at the same event. “Of course, that process is controlled by the commission and we are in constant dialogue with them about the increasingly challenging timeline for completion.”

Britain is advising companies “as a sensible precaution” to have in place alternative legal tools to ensure the continued flow of data, he said. “It is vital, for our businesses and organizations, that there is clarity in whatever scenario emerges.”

EU data-protection regulators are adopting a much tougher approach to data transfers after a ruling by the bloc’s top court in July on trans-Atlantic data flows.

The judgment also raised the bar for data transfers to non-EU countries by demanding that data protection there must be “essentially equivalent” to that in the bloc.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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