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Brussels Privacy Hub Doctoral seminar with guest speaker Svetlana Yakovleva on 'Governing Cross-Border Data Flows: Reconciling EU Data Protection and International Trade Law'

Location: Online
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The Brussels Privacy Hub (BPH) is organising a Doctoral Seminar series to give the opportunity to Ph.D. candidates working on privacy and data protection topics at the Law, Science, Technology and Society (LSTS) to present and discuss their work in progress. The aim of the series is to offer Ph.D. students at all research stages a training ground to refine and practice debating their scientific work, and to receive qualified feedback and questions from their peers and privacy and data protection experts. To this aim, each seminar will include a short presentation by the Ph.D. candidate, followed by an open discussion session with the audience. Seminars are also open to external participants and presenters. Find more information here.

On 17 December 2020, Svetlana Yakovleva (guest speaker) will present her PhD research on 'Governing Cross-Border Data Flows: Reconciling EU Data Protection and International Trade Law'. She is a PhD Candidate at the Institute for Information Law (IViR), University of Amsterdam and a Senior Legal Adviser at De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek (Amsterdam). 

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The dissertation explores the difficulty of reconciling two important legal and policy objectives of the European Union, namely, on the one hand, protecting the fundamental rights guaranteed under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (EU Charter) concerning privacy and personal data, and, on the other hand, maintaining and developing a binding rules-based global trading system to ensure appropriate access to foreign markets for EU businesses. The two objectives had little in common and, therefore, did not come into conflict until recently. The change was caused by the fact that cross-border flows of personal and other data have become the fuel of international trade, an area of digital commerce that has taken the lion’s share of world trade. Yet embedded in personal data are also essential noneconomic values. Those values explain why personal data is protected by the EU Charter, and why it was instantiated with a high degree of specificity by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). 

This dissertation demonstrates that there is a real clash between international trade and European data privacy law when it comes to the governance of cross-border flows of personal data. In order to resolve the tensions caused by this clash, this dissertation proposes ways to ameliorate the situation from both ends (trade and personal data protection), specifically through reforms of both international trade and GDPR rules. To explain how such reforms could be effectuated, the dissertation also looks at the role of discourse in the evolution of trade law in the last two decades. In doing so, the thesis considers the digital trade discourses currently advanced by the EU and the US in the course of negotiations of digital trade agreements (revolving around the issue of whether and to what extent restrictions on cross-border data flows amount to “digital protectionism”) and places those discourses in the broader story of the successive strategic redefinitions of “protectionism” that have accompanied shifts in trade governance from the inception of the multilateral trading system in 1947 till now.

The dissertation shows the importance of discourse in any attempt to reform trade rules, and those lessons may be portable to other contexts as well.