UK and US close to agreement for ‘free flow of personal data’ across Atlantic

Senior officials from Whitehall and Washington to have annual meeting to discuss tech and data collaboration

Credit: DWilliam/Pixabay

Governments in Westminster and Washington claim to have taken major steps towards reaching an agreement that would enable the “free and secure flow of personal data from the UK to the US”.

A data-adequacy arrangement between the two nations is expected “in the coming weeks”, the UK government said. Such an agreement would constitute formal recognition from each country that their respective regulatory regimes offered equivalent levels of data protection. 

Discussions in support of reaching an arrangement took a major step forward on Friday with the signing of an executive order by president Joe Biden which stipulates that US authorities can only access otherwise protected to the extent that it is necessary and proportionate to protect national security. The presidential directive also makes provisions to support international data flows via the designation of overseas nations as “qualifying states” – with officials already working towards assigning the UK this status.

The executive order prompted the European Commission to begin the process of drafting and adopting an EU-wide adequacy decision. If and when this is formally implemented, it should mean that the UK would not endanger its own EU adequacy status by reaching a data-flow agreement with the US.

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Following a meeting in London last week, UK digital secretary Michelle Donelan and US secretary of commerce Gina Raimondo issued a joint statement claiming that, since transatlantic talks began 10 months ago, “both countries have accelerated and broadened their discussions” on data transfers and their potential benefits.

“[The executive order] is a significant step forward in our work on bilateral cross-border data flows, which will facilitate the free and secure flow of personal data from the UK to the US,” they said. “We are working together to ensure that a deal on UK-US data adequacy upholds the rights of data subjects, facilitates responsible innovation, gives individuals in both countries access to the services that suit them, reduces burdens on businesses and delivers better outcomes for people.”

The ministers added: “Building on our strong bilateral relationship, we will continue to work collaboratively on multilateral initiatives to facilitate trusted global data flows, such as the future of the Global Cross-Border Privacy Rules Forum where we seek to remove barriers to commercial cross-border data flows and the OECD’s work on Trusted Government Access to Data, increasing trust in the lawful government access to data for law enforcement and national security purposes; and to counter the influence of authoritarian and protectionist approaches to cross-border data flows.”

The planned data-sharing arrangement is the central strand of a wider technology partnership in which the two countries also plan to work together in areas such as managing supply-chain risk, as well as, conducting research in emerging areas such as artificial intelligence and quantum technology. In support of this collaboration, senior officials from each government will hold annual talks to assess progress and set targets for the year ahead.


Sam Trendall

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