UK signs its first data sharing deal post-Brexit, with South Korea

Six years on from the referendum where the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU, and in the midst of an apparent government meltdown, the country is announcing its first international data sharing deal: It’s inked an agreement with South Korea, which will allow organizations in the U.K. to transfer data to the Republic of Korea, and vice-versa, without restrictions.

“Data transfers” cover any and all digital services that might be provisioned in one country but used or run in the other. It covers data in services like GPS and smart devices, online banking, research, internet services and more. South Korea is home to two of the world’s biggest tech and specifically mobile tech companies, Samsung and LG, and already represents some £1.33 billion ($1.6 billion) in international digital trade, the U.K. said.

“Today marks a huge milestone for the U.K., the Republic of Korea and the high standards of data protection we share,” said U.K. Data Minister Julia Lopez in a statement. “Our new agreement will open up more digital trade to boost U.K. businesses and will enable more vital research that can improve the lives of people across the country.”

“I am honored to agree to this joint statement today. Strengthening cooperation between the U.K. and the Republic of Korea based on the shared recognition of high standards of protection can contribute to forming a healthier and more sustainable global data landscape,” added Republic of Korea Commissioner of the Personal Information Protection Commission Jong in Yoon.

South Korea was one of several countries earmarked for a so-called international data adequacy initiative aimed at “unlocking the benefits of free and secure cross-border data flows now the country has left the EU” — the others being the U.S., Australia and Singapore, the Dubai International Finance Centre and Colombia. “The government continues to make excellent progress in its discussions with other priority countries,” it said today.

Ironically, had U.K. remained in the EU, it would be no further along in the effort it has achieved today: South Korea already has a data adequacy deal with Europe.

Google, Mastercard and Microsoft were among the companies and outside experts advising the government on this deal as part of an International Data Transfer Expert Council formed earlier this year. The government argues that data transfers and the many regulations that have been built around them have led to “billions of pounds” of trade going “unrealized” due to navigating that landscape.

Specifically, the U.K.’s Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport — which is overseeing the deal — said that the idea will be that now companies and organizations doing business across the two countries will be “able to share data freely and maintain high protection standards” while doing so. Given that the basics of the country’s respective data usage policies have theoretically been vetted and harmonized, parties will no longer have to deal with contractural safeguards, it said, including paperwork for International Data Transfer Agreements or Binding Corporate Rules.

Still, you could argue that the time it’s taken, the fact that it’s only covering one country that would have been a partner the U.K. could have had (sans Brexit) anyway, and that fact that today’s deal is still not fully done — it’s just in “principle” — pulls the rug a little from under the argument that Brexit will lead to a lot less red tape for the U.K. going forward when it comes to trade deals.

Getting the deals done with the rest of the priority list will be a start, however. The DCMS estimated that “data-enabled services” to the full list (which includes the U.S.) are currently worth more than £80 billion.