International Transfers under the UK GDPR: What next?

In August, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) launched a public consultation on its much anticipated draft guidance for international transfers of personal data and associated transfer tools. The aim of the consultation is to explore how to address the realities of the UK’s post Brexit data protection regime.

Chapter 5 of the UK GDPR mirrors the international transfer arrangements of the EU GDPR. There is a general prohibition on organisations transferring personal data to a country outside the UK, unless they ensure that data subjects’ rights are protected. This means that, if there is no adequacy decision in respect of the receiving country, one of the safeguards set out in Article 46 of the UK GDPR must be built into the arrangement. These include standard contractual clauses (SCCs) and binding corporate rules. The former need to be included in a contract between the parties (data exporter and importer) and impose certain data protection obligations on both.

The Current Transfer Regime

Until recently, many UK organisations were using the EU’s approved SCCs with a few ICO suggested amendments to fit the UK context. This was despite the fact that they needed updating in the light of the binding judgment of the European Court of Justice(ECJ) in a case commonly known as “Schrems II”. 

In this case the ECJ concluded that organisations that transfer personal data to the USA can no longer rely on the Privacy Shield Framework. They must now consider using the Article 49 derogations or SCCs. If using the latter, whether for transfers to the USA or other countries, the ECJ placed the onus on the data exporters to make a complex assessment about the recipient country’s data protection legislation, and to put in place “additional measures” to those included in the SCCs. 

In the light of the above, the new EU SCCs were published in June. The European Data Protection Board has also published its guidance on the aforementioned required assessment entitled “Recommendations 01/2020 on measures that supplement transfer tools to ensure compliance with the EU level of protection of personal data”.

The Proposed UK Transfer Regime

Following Brexit, the UK is no longer part of the EU. Consequently, the UK has to develop its own international data transfer regime, including SCCs. The ICO is consulting on new guidance as well as a series of proposed international data transfer materials including:

A Transfer Risk Assessment (TRA) – Equivalent to the European Transfer Impact Assessment, this is designed to assist organisations to conduct risk assessments of their international personal data transfers, following the requirements set out in Schrems. The TRA is not mandatory, as organisations are also free to use their own methods to assess risk but does indicate the ICO’s expectations.

An International Data Transfer Agreement – Equivalent to the European SCCs, this a contract that organisations can use when transferring data to countries not covered by adequacy decisions.

The Addendum – This is designed to be used alongside the European Commission SCCs, to allow them to be used to safeguard a transfer under the UK GDPR, instead of the IDTA. It makes limited amendments to the EU SCCs to make them work in a UK context. 

The deadline for responses to the consultation is 5.00pm on Thursday 7th October 2021. The ICO will then review the responses before issuing  the finalised materials (on a date yet to be announced).  Whatever the result of the consultation, organisations need to consider now which of their international data transfers will be affected and what resources will be required to implement the new regime.

This and other GDPR developments will be discussed in detail on our forthcoming GDPR Update workshop and international transfers webinar.

Our next online GDPR Practitioner Certificate course start in October. We also have a classroom course starting in November in Manchester.