Hugh Aitken: EU data transfer deal crucial to Scots businesses

An EU data transfer deal essential to Scottish business success, writes Hugh Aitken

Companies in every sector rely on data to sell their products and services. Picture: John Devlin/TSPL

From getting the best flight deals, to tailored online shopping recommendations or getting the latest news on social media – it’s easy to forget the products and services we love are underpinned by businesses’ use of data.

Companies in every sector and across every part of Scotland rely on data to sell their products and services, interact with their customers and innovate. Indeed, as UK-based consumers we top the list when it comes to using technology in our daily lives.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

So as the UK leaves the EU, being able to transfer data easily, safely and securely is going to be a priority for everyone.

The UK leads the world when it comes to cross border data flows. We’re responsible for 11.5% of all data transferred internationally, three quarters of which is between the UK and EU.

To ensure we remain a global leader there are two key ingredients for success. Firstly we need to get right how we protect data in the UK, in a way that consumers can be confident about. The fast approaching new General Data Protection Regulation will help towards that goal.

Secondly we need to think internationally and make it as easy as possible to share data with countries that meet the high standards that we have. With the EU negotiations on the horizon, it’s great that business and Government are already on the same page when it comes to getting a framework that secures the free flow of data.

There are various options on the table to ease concerns around the free flow of data, but the business community is clear that the best route for this is for the EU Commission to agree that UK data protection standards are adequate. An “adequacy decision” would mean that the UK would be formally recognised as having the same high data standards as other European countries. This provides legal certainty for firms of all sizes and helps smooth the way for data transfers across the world.

Without an adequacy decision, we risk throwing a spanner into the works of business competitiveness throughout the UK and this would affect people, as well as businesses. What could this look like practically here in Scotland?

Imagine you’re running a B&B in rural Scotland that wants to take bookings from a tourist in France. Without a no adequacy deal your business can’t store the tourist’s email address or send them personalised messages.

Likewise, multiplayer video games that allow people from all over the world to compete against each other are reliant on the transfer of information. Without an adequacy decision, our gamers wouldn’t be able to join in and the world-leading businesses in sector hubs like Dundee would stand to lose out.

Scotland shares in the UK’s success as an international leader when it comes to the digital economy, and data is the bedrock on which this success is built. Looking to the future, the CBI is ready to support the Government in its negotiations to achieve a deal that protects the enormous benefits that data transfer provides to consumers and companies.

Hugh Aitken is director of CBI Scotland