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WEF publishes white paper on overcoming the barriers to international data flows

The World Economic Forum (WEF), an influential international non-governmental organisation for public-private cooperation, published its white paper on overcoming the barriers to international data flows on 16 January 2023.

The white paper emphasises that cross-border data flows are vital for the global economy and examines the challenges to the free flow of data in the B2B context. It observes that different national policies governing data transfers across borders lead to regulatory fragmentation, and the increasing number of data localisation laws create extra costs and legal uncertainty for organisations that operate internationally.

The WEF highlights the following barriers to international data transfer:

  • overlapping regulations;
  • multiple layers of regulatory requirements;
  • lack of legal stability due to frequent changes in the requirements for international data transfer;
  • regulators’ lack of understanding of how businesses that depend on cross-border data flows operate in practice;
  • costs involved in obtaining the relevant certifications for data processing; and
  • lack of consensus in the definitions of the key concepts, such as “personal data” or “cross-border flow”.

The white paper provides practical examples of the challenges businesses experience when they transfer data across borders, including:

  • international data transfer restrictions on outsourcing services to a foreign company;
  • different security and privacy rules for IoT device data;
  • frequent contract renegotiations due to complex and overlapping regulations for platform and IaaS services;
  • high costs involved with region-specific certifications for cybersecurity service providers beyond complying with international rules and standards; and
  • complex and conflicting national laws which are hard for online app providers to navigate.

The white paper explores how policy and regulation can address and overcome these challenges. It reviewed the progress of the Data Free Flow with Trust (DFFT) initiative, launched by Japan in 2019 at the WEF meeting in Davos, and other international and regional efforts aimed at the development of common principles, convergence and interoperability. It urges further discussions on this topic by the G7, G20 countries, the OECD and the WTO. It also recommends that the public and private sectors work together to achieve the interoperability of the data transfer rules and develop practical tools to overcome their complexity.

Read the white paper here. Our previous publications summarising the international efforts in this area are available below:

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