- Posted by Prof. Krista Nadakavukaren Schefer
- On March 3, 2016
- investment treaties, national security, WTO
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” –Albert Einstein, Physicist.
The University of Basel Law Faculty’s conference next month (7 April) on Regulating International Transfers of Data is a stark reminder of how reliant on electronic information flows both society and commerce has become.
The statistics are astounding. Today, more than 360 million people are said to take part in cross-border e-commerce. Transboundary data exchange sits at close to one petabyte (1000 terabytes) per minute, a figure that is, according a new report by McKinsey Global Institute, 45 times greater than the volume was only a decade ago.
With the jury still out on the legality of the proposed Privacy Shield that is to take the place of the US-EU Safe Harbor agreement, and the continued attention given to concepts such as “the right to be forgotten”, it is clear that legal regulation of data today has not only not kept up with technical developments in the digital world, but it is struggling just to keep track of them as they speed ahead.
More than ever, policymakers and the legal community are realising that there is a pressing need to carefully assess whether, to what extent, and how digital data transfers between (and amongst) countries should be regulated. Should governments limit the flows of at least some categories of data? Should governments liberalise the flows? And if so, for what purposes and with what tools?
The upcoming conference in Switzerland’s historic university town of Basel will welcome over 20 academics, industry leaders, attorneys, and government officials from around the world to explain, question, and propose novel approaches to some of today’s most pressing legal questions surrounding data transfers. From e-commerce and competition law to exchanges of tax information, national security, and privacy interests, presenters will highlight the latest concerns and regulatory efforts at controlling and directing data flows.
The conference will begin by looking at how we characterise data as a legal res. The answer to this question, while fundamental to determining the rules governing its transfer, is surprisingly unclear under existing domestic and international law, and technological developments continue to challenge the suitability of conventional legal approaches.
A roundtable discussion will scrutinise issues in light of international trade and investment rules – seeking to find where the World Trade Organisation (WTO), regional trade agreements, and the rules of international investment treaties may limit a state’s ability to restrict data transfers.
Following the introductory session, a sitting will focus on the regulatory efforts that look at data as an economic resource. Regulating the market for digital information includes looking at the intellectual property issues surrounding data, controlling e-commerce, and determining how to address anti-competitive behaviour of data giants. Commentary by the World Economic Forum’s Sean Doherty will give the session a solid assessment of such regulations from a business enterprise perspective.
Requests for more data flows in the name of protecting state security will be covered during the next session. Here, the speakers will update guests on the concerns of police, of national security agencies, and tax authorities in trying to ensure that data can be sent and received. What limits should there be on such mechanisms? How can we survey the surveillance agents? And what do these regulations mean for “Finanzplatz Schweiz”? These are just some of the questions scheduled for this panel.
The fourth conference sitting of the day shifts to the current efforts and restrictions of cross-border movements of personal data in order to protect individuals’ rights to privacy. The call for greater limits on this trade has sounded loudly in the European Union, but is also a high priority elsewhere in the world.
With experts from Japan and India, as well as those from Europe and Switzerland, the conference panel will be able to provide a comprehensive overview and answers to the important questions.
Included is a keynote speech by one of the world’s foremost international criminal law practitioners and the Chair of the International Bar Association’s cybercrime subcommittee, Monty Raphael of UK’s Peters and Peters, will round out our day. Bringing the criminal viewpoint into the conference will highlight how even the best regulations to protect and control data flows are under threat from extralegal attacks on websites, databanks, and security systems. From hacking to cyberattacks and cyber-ransoming, the criminals in cyberspace are agile, responsive, and imminently creative. Do we have a chance against them?
An apéro will follow the event, giving all listeners a chance to chat with the speakers in a relaxed atmosphere.
Trade Pacts members will also be attending the event and would be happy to meet you. We hope you can make it to the conference and contribute your own ideas. Take a look at the Trade Pacts news page for further details or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org before 25 March to register. Space is limited to 100 participants only!
Follow the event on Twitter official hashtag #databaselconf.