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EU ruling on data keeps UK in ‘privacy family’ for time being

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Data privacy activist and lawyer Max Schrems Photo: Lisi Niesner/Reuters

Data privacy activist and lawyer Max Schrems Photo: Lisi Niesner/Reuters

Data privacy activist and lawyer Max Schrems Photo: Lisi Niesner/Reuters

Data should keep flowing freely between the EU and UK for the next four years, the bloc has said.

In its first major decision on UK law since the post-Brexit trade deal, the European Commission said yesterday that British data protection rules are ‘equivalent’ to the EU’s.

Pending approval by the bloc’s data protection board and a majority of EU countries, it will allow essential transfers of information on healthcare, criminals, logistics or social media to keep flowing, replacing a temporary solution that expires in June.

“Ensuring free and safe flow of personal data is crucial for businesses and citizens on both sides of the Channel,” said European Commission vice-president Věra Jourová. “The UK has left the EU, but not the European privacy family.”

Individuals will be able to challenge data transfers they believe are harmful, via data protection authorities or through UK and EU courts.

“Each of us, if we would wish, is a potential Max Schrems,” said an EU official, referring to the Austrian citizen who won a case against Facebook in the Irish courts last year, striking down an EU-US privacy deal over fears about mass surveillance.

Yesterday’s “adequacy” decision was made easier because UK law is based on the EU’s general data protection regulation and a separate law enforcement directive.

But if there is a “problematic divergence” from existing rules, the EU can suspend or withdraw its decision or decide not to renew it when it expires in four years.

An EU official said the UK had adequate safeguards, including a ‘double lock’ review system for new surveillance laws, an independent information commissioner and the right for individuals to take data privacy cases to court.

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