Event Reports

Forging Bridges through dialogue on the Transatlantic Digital Disconnect

by Jeanene Lairo

Signs of finding a common ground with the new agreement “Privacy Shield” and passing of the Judicial Redress Act

Transatlantic relations are strong, albeit with some 21st Century challenges. Both the European Union and the United States are striving to create digital economies. It’s still unclear if these digital markets can fully integrated. There are a number of “tangled issues”, like the protection of privacy rights, freedom of speech and national security that pose a challenge in finding the right balance when trying to construct a policy framework. A lot is at stake.

Bridging privacy and information policy differences by finding common ground is at the center of the dialogue program that was organized by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and took place from February 10-12, 2016 in Washington, DC. The delegation was led by Dr. Andreas Schwab MEP and Marian Wendt MdB, both key players for developing the digital agenda on a European and German policy level. The program was part of a larger series of legislative workshops that has taken place over the last 12 months.

Over the past year, legislative leaders from the European Parliament, the German Bundestag and the U.S. Congress convened by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in collaboration with the Center for Transatlantic Relations of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and the Group of the European People’s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament. A variety of dialogue-formats enabled nuanced and frank discussion in Berlin, Brussels, and Washington, DC. Participants discussed and compared the European Union’s proposed Digital Single Market Strategy with American data and information policies to identify common policy principles and highlight policy differences. Participants explored how common underlying values and shared principles of democratic governance could facilitate cooperative policy choices regarding data and information. The workshop “Bridging the Transatlantic Digital Disconnect” on February 11, 2016, which took place in the U.S. Capitol was the last in the series.

During the legislative workshop there was a lot to be celebrated – passage of the Judicial Redress Act (providing comparable rights to EU citizens seeking redress for privacy violations by the US government) and an initial agreement that is aimed to bring the Safe Harbor Agreement into compliance with the decision of European Court of Justice from last October. Both events happened during the same week when the program was taking place. The workshops and other KAS dialogues on digital issues have highlighted that movement can best be achieved through intense transatlantic interaction of key stakeholders.

Besides the workshop on the Hill, at which Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CT) and Congressman Will Hurd (R-TX) were present, the German delegation also had meetings with high-level government officials in the State and Commerce Departments, who were key negotiators in the current transatlantic digital disputes.

A reoccurring theme was that there is need for strong leadership on both sides of the Atlantic to better frame the narrative. Recent creation of the Privacy Shield and the US Judicial Redress Act shows that solutions to difficult problems can be found. Building trust through continued dialogue was a message throughout the program. Participants demonstrated commitment throughout to promoting transatlantic policy cooperation with regard to treating data flow and storage vis a vis privacy and security concerns and with regard to reinforcing the fundamental mutual trust and shared values in the relationship. Time and again it was pointed out that there is a critical part the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung can play in facilitating this much need dialogue on transatlantic digital issues.