Clash at the OECD over treaty giving police access to personal data held by companies

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has ratified this Wednesday in Gran Canaria the first intergovernmental treaty to allow the police and security agencies access to personal data held by private companies. The supranational organization emphasizes that its objective is to “safeguard privacy and other human rights” but its publication has been surrounded by controversy due to accusations that it has been negotiated behind closed doors and without public supervision.

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This has been denounced by the OECD Civil Society and Information Advisory Council (CSISAC), which has published a statement warning of what happened. “We saw an unfinished version of the text with which we had significant concerns, but we never received the final document in advance, nor were we invited to provide comments on the same under embargo,” they reveal.

“We have not had time to completely review the final document, but many of the problems are still there,” warn Pamela Dixon and Carmela Botero, members of CSISAC and heads of the NGO World Privacy Forum and the Karisma Foundation, in conversation with this outlet. , respectively. “There is no proper separation of powers and freedom of expression is not properly protected,” they denounce.

There is not a proper separation of powers and freedom of expression is not properly protected

Pamela Dixon and Carolina Botero

Both specialists emphasize that it is the first time that the OECD has lowered the blind to civil society in its negotiations. “The suppression of the voice of civil society in one of the most sensitive and important projects of the OECD sets a dangerous precedent,” complains the official statement from CSISAC, made up of multiple organizations for the defense of human rights and individual experts.

The OECD Secretary General has avoided referring to the expulsion of civil society from the treaty negotiations. “Ultimately the work to finalize this declaration is carried out through our Digital Economy Policy Committee, with representatives from all governments and the European Union. All these governments, of course, also collaborate with civil society and other interested parties, as appropriate”, Mathias Cormann stated after being asked by about this issue at a press conference.

Intercept international data

The agreement focuses on how the security forces of the 38 OECD countries can intercept cross-border flows of personal data. The organization emphasizes that the lack of a common framework for police action in this field was causing problems in international data transfers, which it considers “essential for the digital transformation of the world economy.” An example of this situation occurs between the EU and the US, where the EU Court of Justice has struck down the data transfer pact up to two times due to the ability it grants US security agencies to access the data of Europeans without judicial control.

The US has been one of the countries that have presented the conclusions of the pact, together with Japan, Denmark and Spain. “It is the result of an extraordinary effort by security professionals together with privacy experts,” said Nathaniel Fick, US ambassador for cybersecurity and digital policy. “This Declaration details how democracies protect individual rights in the context of government access to private data”, he has summarized: “It will foster trust between governments, companies and civil society. So let’s get to work to put it into practice”.

It will foster trust between governments, businesses and civil society. So get to work to put it into practice

Nathaniel Fick
U.S. Ambassador for Cybersecurity and Digital Policy

Ana Sánchez Hernández, Undersecretary of Justice, has also defended the need to approve a treaty like the one presented this Wednesday. “We live in a globalized world in which the threats that consolidated democracies suffer are common, we all share them and we all need everyone to guarantee the security of our citizens”, she has expressed.

Dixon and Botero, from CSISAC, stress that another of the dangers of the agreement and that it does not include sufficient safeguards for citizens beyond the borders of the OECD. “The OECD is a club of rich countries that have strong civil societies that can protest. But many countries of the Global South will take this document and with the excuse that it comes from an organization like the OECD, they will use it to copy-paste and lower the protection of human rights”, they lament. has also asked the two main Spanish technology employers, Adigital and DigitalES, for their position on the treaty, but neither has taken an official position.

The OECD digital economy summit in Gran Canaria will end this Thursday after bringing together more than fifty delegations from as many countries. It is the first time it has been held in Europe and one of its main focuses is to promote this flow of cross-border data, which the organization calculates will contribute 11,000 million dollars to world GDP in 2025.

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