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Today, researchers of the University of Amsterdam’s Institute for Information Law (IViR) have published an independent study that clearly shows that the European Union (EU) does not sufficiently safeguard citizen’s personal data and privacy rights in its trade agreements.  The study was commissioned by TACD, together with member organisations European Consumer Organisation BEUC, European Digital Rights (EDRI) and the Centre for Digital Democracy in the US.

Modern digital markets rely on the processing of personal data, but regulations on how to protect these differ widely from country to country. A new generation of trade agreements increasingly allows unrestricted data transfers, including personal data, between countries.

This ground-breaking study sheds light on how trade agreements – for example, the future EU-US trade deal (TTIP) –treat personal data and privacy. By looking at both EU and international law, the researchers conclude that the EU should protect its citizens’ personal data, and prevent their privacy from being weakened in trade agreements. To do so, the EU must take action to safeguard its rules on data protection from legal challenge by its trade partners.

“It’s unacceptable that the EU’s privacy and data protection rules could be challenged through trade policy. Trade deals should not undermine consumers’ fundamental rights and their very trust in the online economy. We’re pleased to see this study clearly echoing the European Parliament’s call to keep rules on privacy and data protection out of trade agreements,” Monique Goyens, Director General of The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), commented.

“The EU’s opaque and inconsistent system of granting third countries so-called ‘adequacy’ status for transferring personal data of its citizens makes it vulnerable to legal challenge by trade partners. This is an important finding of this study, and particularly relevant in the week when the EU-US much-criticised Privacy Shield has been approved by the EU institutions. The EU must not make some partners more equal than others when deciding on the adequacy of their data protection laws”, said Anna Fielder, Senior Policy Advisor of the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD).

“The EU has the responsibility to safeguard people’s rights to privacy and data protection in trade agreements. The European Union has done a great job at setting high standards for these fundamental rights. This study shows how to ensure these high standards can be maintained when trade agreements are negotiated”, said Joe McNamee, Executive Director of European Digital Rights (EDRi).

“The United States is aggressively pushing for a trade deal with the EU that would permit the unprecedented expansion of commercial data collection, threatening both consumers and citizens. America’s data giants want the TTIP to serve as a digital `Trojan Horse’ that effectively sidesteps the EU’s human-rights-based data protection safeguards. This new study is a wake-up call for policy makers and the public: any trade deal must first protect our privacy and ensure consumer protection,” added Jeffrey Chester, Executive Director of Center for Digital Democracy (CDD).

The full study, titled “Trade and privacy – Difficult bedfellows? How to achieve data protection-proof free trade agreements”, is available here, and a fact sheet is also available, here.