Managing risk in international data transfers

June 30th, 2022 | Posted by Claude-Etienne Armingaud in Non classé

FW: Could you provide an overview of trends in global data flows? To what extent is the business world now unavoidably reliant on the ability to share information instantly over vast distances?

Armingaud: A global economy, with data being the fuel for that economy, means that globalised data is unavoidable. This tendency is in particular driven by more and more jurisdictions adopting rules on data transfers of personal data. Cross-border data transfer trends could be roughly described as, on the one hand, a Western trend, for example the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) aimed at data protection and restriction of transfers, in particular contractually framing personal data transfers, and, on the other hand, an Eastern data protectionism trend, such as China’s Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL) and Indonesia’s data protection laws and regulations, aimed at a general restrictive data localisation requirement, which may be linked to a broader concept of data sovereignty.

FW: How would you characterise the risks and complexities involved in cross-border data transfers? Drilling down, what particular factors do organisations need to consider?

Armingaud: Risks pertaining to cross-border data transfers relate to regulatory compliance to ensure that such transfers are valid in light of a lack on foreseeability since the Schrems II decision. Less obvious, but not negligible, is whether proper information is being given to data subjects regarding data transfers. The French Data Protection Authority (CNIL) recently suspended the use of cookies on such grounds. Organisations also need to consider onward transfers that require end-to-end visibility by data exporters and the risks of a shared or joint several liability qualification as per the joint controller relationship between parties.

FW: How do regulations governing data transfers vary between jurisdictions? To what extent do these variances add additional layers of risk?

Armingaud: Both the Western and Eastern cross-border transfer restriction trends – data protection and data protectionism – are essentially opposed. This divergence of opinion over how to deal with personal data necessarily calls for more complex agreements – which is leading to frustration and incomprehension during negotiations on both sides – or to separate, regional templates, which may lead to potential discrepancies in warranties.

FW: How important is it for organisations to undertake a data transfer risk assessment (TRA)? What steps need to be taken when conducting a TRA to ensure it is effective, up to date and compliant with current regulatory requirements and privacy laws?

Armingaud: Pertaining to the accountability principle, a data transfer risk assessment is mandatory. To quote the European Data Protection Board (EDPB): “Knowing your transfers is an essential first step to fulfil your obligations under the principle of accountability.” Mapping a transfer requires the entity to perform a 360-degree overview of the process, asking and being able to answer questions on who, why, what, how and how long, from initial export to final import of the personal data.

FW: What kinds of tools, such as encryption and containerisation, may be used to protect privileged, sensitive or confidential information being transferred internationally?

Armingaud: To protect personal data, we need to make use of what is referred to under article 32 of the GDPR as technical and organisational measures (TOMs). These are not restricted to only technical tools but also fall under pure process. In that sense, annex II of the EC Implementing Decision (EU) 2021/914 of 4 June 2021 on standard contractual clauses for the transfer of personal data to third countries provides a set of process type examples of TOMs, including ‘measures for ensuring data minimisation’, ‘measures for ensuring data quality’ and ‘measures for ensuring limited data retention’. Implementing TOMs requires the controller to carry out a proportionality test relying on the underlying personal data and the processing operations. It is, however, sometimes easier, less time consuming and less expensive to set out a maximum level of TOMs regardless of the sensitivity of the processing.

FW: What essential advice would you offer to organisations on establishing an effective international data transfer solution that manages risk and provides an adequate level of protection?

Armingaud: If I were to offer only one word of advice, it would be to ‘document’. Data protection is less about what you are doing and more about why you are doing it. Being prepared and able to justify any action when processing data ensures that either you are doing it right or you have a justified and legitimate answer for it, as per the accountability principle.

FW: Given that the volume of data transferred around the world will only increase, do you expect the associated risks and regulatory regimes to intensify? What key issues are likely to dominate this issue over the coming years?

Armingaud: It is not so much that the volume is increasing, but the sensitivity of the underlying data. There is an increasing frustration within many countries arising from the perceived data wealth being funnelled to the US and generating less value in the country of origin. I would expect to see more data localisation requirements, so protecting individuals against foreign access will, for all intents and purposes, dictate the future evolution of regulations.

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