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6 Priorities for the Free Flow of Data Across Europe

A modern digital economy and society cannot thrive without an open borderless world when it comes to data. Data-driven innovation is only possible where data can flow safely and freely across borders to where it is needed. That is why techUK supports the European Commission’s ambitions for the Free Flow of Data Initiative (FFDI).

As part of the Digital Single Market Strategy, the FFDI presents an opportunity to identify the tools Member States need to realize the potential of data-driven growth and innovations including Internet of Things, AI, Big Data and cloud computing. It is expected that the European Commission will release a legislative proposal on removing data localization restrictions and a communication on a set of emerging issues, including data ownership, access, re-use and liability issues, towards the end of 2016.

While the exact details of the Commission proposals are still unclear, what is clear is that the importance of the FFDI will go beyond the tech sector. Data is a vital enabler of both the wider European economy and the delivery of public and private sector goods and services.

In the modern economy data and trade flows go hand in hand techUK is particularly concerned that failure to unlock Europe’s data could challenge the growth of the services sector, facing both the UK and EU economy in a post-Brexit world.

>> RELATED: For more information on techUK’s response to Brexit check out our five-point plan to power Britain back to growth

Now is the time for the EU to show leadership in developing a forward-looking approach to ensuring the free flow of data between European Member States and the rest of the world.

techUK has identified the following key issues the Free Flow of Data Initiative should address to achieve this objective:

  1. Send a clear signal that European data is able to move freely across Member States as well as outside the EU by the removal of data localization requirements for data to remain solely with a specific country. Exemptions should be narrowly defined and interpreted in a harmonized way across the EU.
  2. The Commission’s starting point on any discussion around data should be the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Discussion on the concept of ‘data ownership’ should recognize the scope and breadth of the regulation and take into account the practical implications of the now wider definition of personal data. The Commission must be absolutely clear on the problem trying to be addressed, point to any evidence of market failure before moving forward and avoid introducing regulatory interventions that may overlap or contradict the GDPR.
  3. Debates around data ownership should focus on the role of having the right mechanisms in place, such as clear contractual agreements, to exert control, access, rights and responsibility over data, in individual scenarios.
  4. Mandated open data access requirements for proprietary commercial and business data which could significantly damage data-driven businesses should be avoided. Data access and reuse should be encouraged by supporting existing measures such as API’s and data sharing initiatives.
  5. Where data interoperability and portability rules and requirements have been developed, without the need for regulatory intervention, these should be showcased and promoted. For example in the UK finance sector through joint industry and government collaboration.
  6. A Better Regulation approach should be taken to ensure the final FFDI is coherent with wider DSM packages and the forthcoming GDPR.

techUK’s Role

techUK is working with the European Commission to ensure position the FFDI as a tool that can support and enable data-driven businesses to serve the needs of EU consumers and not as an additional compliance burden that will stifle data-driven innovation.

With input from members techUK has already developed a detailed position paper on the Free Flow of Data Initiative, which members can download below. techUK will be using this paper in its outreach with both the UK Government and European Commission to ensure the UK’s tech sector continues to be heard on these important matters.

Members interested in becoming involved in this work should contact Sue Daley and Shane Murphy.


Sue Daley is head of programme for big data, cloud and mobile; Shane Murphy is European policy manager. Both represent techUK. For more techUK blogs visit here.

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