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Regulatory enforcement cooperation as a human-centric approach to privacy and data protection

From a regulatory posture, a human-centric approach is one that seeks to understand and ultimately serve the best interests of individuals in the most effective and impactful way. And in the privacy realm, a human-centric approach is of elevated priority given that privacy rights also represent a prerequisite for the advancement of other human rights and the preservation of democratic values.

Today’s global societies and economies have evolved exponentially towards an unprecedented state of connectedness and digitization. The personal information of the world’s citizenry is the key driver to innumerable social and commercial platforms, with the lines of such digital platforms blurring and overlapping. It is against this environmental backdrop that regulatory cooperation has never been more essential to optimizing the protection of individuals’ data and privacy rights. And we have witnessed this first-hand at the Global Privacy Assembly through our leadership activities in both the International Enforcement Working Group (IEWG) and the Digital Citizen and Consumer Working Group (DCCWG) (Working groups under the GPA umbrella.)

Within the privacy and data-protection realm we have seen how the greatest privacy risks are shared by jurisdictions all over the world, and that often the most effective means of addressing such common risks is through collaboration. To illustrate, with the onset of the global pandemic in 2020, IEWG members acted swiftly to address video-conferencing technology (VCT) risks through a joint enforcement action that resulted in the elevation of privacy protections for VCT platforms to the collective benefit of citizens around the world.

Across regulatory spheres we have seen through the work of the DCCWG how privacy issues can also represent consumer protection and competition issues (and vice versa), and how actions taken by an authority in one regulatory sphere can have either a complementary or disruptive impact on an individual’s rights and protections in another regulatory sphere. The solution championed by the DCCWG is elegant and simple – cross-regulatory cooperation where authorities, working together, can amplify the complements and mitigate the tensions towards ensuring a more holistic protection of individuals’ privacy and consumer protection rights. Examples of such human-centric initiatives and outcomes abound in the DCCWG’s Annual Report.

Whether regulatory collaboration is of a horizontal or vertical pedigree, its merits as a human-centric endeavor are clear: it can produce the most effective and all-encompassing of protections to our collective global citizenry, given the commonality of privacy risks internationally, and the increasing incidence of such risks also intersecting with other regulatory harms (e.g. from anti-competitive behavior).

It has become an axiom that through collaboration, the global regulatory community expands its collective capacity to take action and amplifies the impact of those actions. And to that end, members of the IEWG and DCCWG are proud to carry the flag and champion the merits of collaboration to the world on behalf of the Global Privacy Assembly.

Brent R Homan
Deputy Commissioner, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Co-Chair of IEWG and DCCWG

The original version of this essay was published in the Global Privacy Assembly’s “memory book” following the organization’s 43rd meeting in Mexico. The book is a compilation of essays, speeches and messages from event organizers and experts in data protection and privacy from across the GPA. The GPA is an international forum that connects more than 130 regulators from around the world to share best practices, discuss issues of mutual interest and provide global leadership on matters related to privacy and data protection.

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