A Shared Legal Ecosystem for International Data Flows in Asia

The Forum is part of ABLI’s two-year project to help bridge the gaps between the different rules and standards enforced by Asian countries on cross-border transfers of personal information.  At the Forum, for the first time in Asia, representatives from government, data protection regulators, industry and the legal community across 19 countries will met to discuss how to achieve a common Asian framework to share and transfer information across international borders.  

During the last few years, the need to achieve convergence in the regulation of data protection and privacy in Asia has been stressed repeatedly by Industry, Regional and International Organisations, Data Privacy Commissioners, and Asian Leaders and Ministers. 

Governments and lawmakers in major Asian jurisdictions, including India and Indonesia, are actively engaged in the process of adopting comprehensive data protection laws. Law reform has been achieved or is underway in Singapore, Japan, Korea and New Zealand, whilst the entry into force of data transfer restrictions is under debate in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, the implementation of the ASEAN framework is a priority of the new Singaporean chairmanship, the APEC CBPR system is expanding, and the extraterritorial effects of EU GDPR are pushing national reforms or the adoption of new guidance in Asian countries. 

In this context, it is urgent that public and private stakeholders go beyond general discussions and formally engage in the policy development process, lest the opportunity to achieve effective convergence in this area of law be compromised. This engagement must be ambitious and aim at laying the fundamentals on which to build a shared legal ecosystem for international data flows in Asia. To achieve this, the whole spectrum of legal issues related to cross-border data flows in Asia should be covered in a single project, rather than each issue viewed in separate fora.

Unlike other regions in the world, Asia currently lacks an adequate structure of cooperation to lead the necessary discussions from a truly regional angle, while also taking global developments into account. ABLI aims to help fill this gap. It has thus built the Data Privacy Project, of which the Data Privacy Forum is part, as an ad hoc, multi-jurisdictional, and multi-stakeholder platform of cooperation, from which the necessary discussions can be launched, and hopefully taken over in other fora for concrete implementation. 

ABLI has adopted a two-pronged approach. Over the last eight months, Dr Girot, Senior Research Fellow at ABLI and Project Lead, has first led a project team comprising legal academics and practitioners from 14 countries who surveyed all data transfer rules currently in force in Singapore, China, India, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia and Indonesia (Download the list of Reporters here: Dramatis Personae.pdf). The reports will be published in a compendium which will be available to the public for free on the ABLI website within the first quarter of 2018. Several public and private organisations have already expressed their intention to use the compendium as a resource for their respective data privacy projects.

At the ABLI Forum, a gathering of 90 of the best experts and high-level government officials in the region, will set the stage for the second phase of the work.  Five key issues have been selected for open discussions at the Forum. Following the Forum, over the next 12 months, ABLI will do a comparative analysis between the existing laws, highlighting their commonalities and differences. Following this, ABLI will propose policy options to governments and policy-makers and make suitable recommendations for the convergence of rules and standards on cross-border data transfers.


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