Transatlantic Partners See Opportunity in the Digital Space

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The narrative on transatlantic digital economy relations is often focused on the differences, rather than the excitement, that many see in the European Union and the United States for the contribution that Internet-enabled commerce, based on free data flows, can make in generating growth and employment.  Without downplaying the differences – there are issues both sides must work through – the reality is that what unites us transcends what divides us.

I saw this today at a European Internet Forum (EIF) breakfast in Brussels organized with Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) support.  European Member of Parliament and EIF Chair Pilar del Castillo led a dynamic debate.  The Brookings Institution’s Joshua Meltzer summarized the findings from his report on transatlantic data flows and noted that U.S.-European data flow exchanges are more intense than exchanges between other parts of the world.  Moreover, the European Union is highly competitive in this area, exporting to the world in 2012 roughly USD 470 billion in digitally-enabled services.  Rene Summers, representing Swedish telecom giant Ericsson, talked about how Ericsson’s five global R&D centers depend on data flows. He noted also that over a ten year period, Ericsson's revenues had gone from 70 percent in hard goods sales and 30 percent in digitally delivered services to 70 percent in digitally delivered services and 30 percent in hard goods sales todayMarco Duerkop, an EU trade official, suggested that now is the time to expand trade rules in the digital realm.  At the same time, he repeated the EU position that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership not include data privacy.

The relative consensus was not an accident.  The United States and the European Union concluded on April 14 in Brussels the EU-US Information Society Dialogue.  The Joint Statement, is worth reading because it makes clear that policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic share similar views on the value of an open Internet, the importance of the multistakeholder model for Internet governance, and data flows:

“The participants agreed that data flows are of fundamental importance to the modern global economy, and that an appropriate balance must be struck between ICT’s ability to spur economic growth, innovation, and cost savings with concerns about privacy and security.”

This is a good statement on data flows, although we posit that innovation and privacy are compatible so the idea of “balance” in this regard should be refined.  It is the role of government, industry and civil society to thread that needle to achieve both objectives.  One question addressed at the EIF breakfast was: how do we do that in the current context of transatlantic relations?  Duerkop reminded us that trade negotiations, for instance, take place in a “political context.”  And Senior Legal Officer for the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), Agustin Reyna, posed challenging questions on consumer trust.

Broadly, SIIA sees two major avenues to forging a common transatlantic approach to handling data flows:

  • First, policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic should recognize and value what is unique about our relationship.  Let’s remember, for instance, that the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework has over 3,000 companies in it that have undertaken a significant compliance burden in order to transfer data from Europe to the United States.  These firms are overwhelmingly law-abiding – policymakers should take advantage of this to build an even broader privacy compliance culture.  Industry has engaged when asked in good faith to consider different options for enhancing confidence in the Framework, and we will continue to do so.
  • Second, while recognizing legitimate security concerns (something that has emerged higher on the European policy agenda as a result of recent terrorist attacks in Denmark and France), confidence-building is required.  That is why SIIA strongly supports, for instance, the Judicial Redress Act of 2015, introduced by Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis) and Ranking Member John Conyer (D-Mich).  The bill would extend the right of redress to EU citizens with respect to personal data shared with U.S. law enforcement agencies.

So work remains to be done.  But it is doable.  The payoff would be immense, not just in transatlantic relations, but in establishing influential rules for data flows around the world.

Carl Carl Schonander is Senior Vice President for Global Public Policy.