The Asia Privacy Bridge Forum (APB Forum) is an international network created in cooperation with public organizations to reduce inefficiency and damage stemming from differences in personal data protection laws, to supplement personal data protection policies, and to protect the international rights and interests of citizens.
As the size of data grows and the scope of its use increases, the forums in which personal data is collected and utilized are increasing rapidly. Whenever we are using our smartphones, our personal data is being provided to someone else. Online services are moving beyond international borders and COVID-19 has further promoted the movement of data between countries. In other words - even if you are physically in Korea, your personal data might be stored and used in another country without you knowing. In order to protect personal data, each country has been preparing for a legal system regarding personal data protection.
The scope and frequency of individuals using international services are increasing, but the personal data protection laws are isolated at the national level and vary significantly between countries. Thus there is a clear limit to protecting personal data that has been transferred overseas solely with the power of the government. This is because it is difficult for the government to control personal data that has already been transferred to other countries when protection systems vary internationally. Also, when Korean companies engage in business activities in other countries, they may suffer from different personal data protection systems. They would have to provide different services according to the regulations and legal systems for each country whenever they try to expand their businesses abroad. Preparing and responding to different services from country to country is bound to be a significant management burden for companies, as well as socially and economically inefficient.
If the level of personal data protection systems become similar among countries, the rights and interests protected for individuals would be maintained on a similar level. Business activities can also be carried out much more efficiently. Of course, there is a need for differentiation depending on the environment and culture of each country and that needs to be respected. However, if each country has different regulations or legal systems for the same basic services, businesses will also need to be recreated for each country.
We can approach it at the personal and corporate levels. If foreign countries adopt the same level of legal regulations as Korea’s personal data protection system, Korean citizens’ personal data can be protected to a similar degree in other countries as well as in Korea. In addition, if a legal system similar to that of Korea is introduced in other countries, the burden on companies expanding their businesses overseas will be reduced and services can be provided efficiently. In other words, the international competitiveness of companies will be enhanced.
The more common ground for each country’s personal information protection and the legislation in the way we introduced, the more advantageous it is to protect the rights and interests of citizens and pursue corporate efficiency. Therefore, international cooperation and mutual assistance are essential to protect the rights and interests of our citizens in the mid and long-term to enhance the international competitiveness of our companies.
We have to consider where the differences in regulations and laws of each country come from. Each adopts different regulations and laws due to situational and cultural differences. Of course, this is not limited to personal data protection - but it is difficult for governments to narrow cultural and legal differences generated from different environments only through negotiations. This is because there is a limit to literal interpretation and reform of the law. Therefore, civil exchanges in academia, business, and civilian organizations are essential for international dialogue. There is a need for preparatory work through civil exchanges to understand situational and cultural differences.
I am a professor at a university, but the APB forum is open not only to those in academia, but also to leaders from business and civil society. Members from different countries and backgrounds come together to discuss regulations and legal systems to bridge the gap. Of course, even with such civil exchanges, public-private cooperation is essential. When the government’s push for policies and institutional cooperation adds to the knowledge and international networks accumulated over the decades in the private sector such as academia, the international cooperation network can exert more power. As a leading university in globalization, Yonsei University has continued to provide internal and external support for many years and has been a great supporter in promoting related work.
The creation of the APB Forum was triggered by the Privacy Bridge Forum centered around the United States and Europe in 2015. The Privacy Bridge Forum, operated mainly in the US and the EU, strived to build a network of privacy experts from around the field and conducted related research, but in reality, it was a network focused on the US and the EU. There was clearly a need for Asian members to understand and cooperate with each other to work together in studying personal data protection. Barun ICT Research Center joined forces with government agencies to form a network of experts in public-private partnerships and has been operating it for 6 years. There have been times when the international forum was held twice a year, so it is already our 10th anniversary.
Business, academic, and government experts from Asian countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan, who agree with the purpose of the APB Forum have been actively participating in the last six years and are strong partners. In particular, Singapore is not only the most active partner but is also working to become a policy leader representing ASEAN. The government is also interested in personal data protection policies. Hong Kong has already taken the lead in adopting the British legal system when it comes to personal data protection. We are also looking forward to the active participation of China, which has recently established personal data protection laws.
Yes, from 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19, the APB forum has been held online. It is not easy to overcome the physical constraints of time and space with various media. However, what is even more disappointing is that we do not have the opportunity to share opinions more actively through in-person meetings.
Due to the nature of international exchange, there is a clear difference between what can be discussed formally at meetings and spoken of informally in personal conversations. The various experiences, trials and errors, that occur in the process of policy implementation are not reflected in legal documents. If we meet in person, it is possible to have a cup of tea, walk around Gyeongbokgung Palace and Insa-dong, and talk about Korean, and naturally share deep insights and vivid experiences about the process of enforcing and preparing legal regulations. These experiences are of great help in bridging the cultural and environmental differences mentioned earlier. It is a shame that there are so few opportunities to talk like this at online conferences. This is the biggest reason I hope the next 11th APB Forum will be held offline again.
In the future, the APB Forum plans to propose an “effective global personal data policy system”. Effective regulations and systems cannot be developed only with the opinions of a small number of experts. It should be based on exchanges, communication, and participation of diverse opinions. In order to increase our social competitiveness in the era of AI and Big Data, where data collection and utilization have become more important than ever, a more comprehensive and international approach to the personal information system is needed. More effective, rational, national, and international legal systems can be created when experts and citizens from various countries gather to freely share their experiences and opinions on whether each policy is effective, whether there are new methods of policies, whether it should be strengthened or relaxed, and more.
Personal data cannot be protected by only one country. All of us are continuing to provide and receive personal data from someone, and through this process, we facilitate our social life. It would be very helpful if each of us knew how the personal data we provide is used, how it is protected, and how to minimize damage if it is breached. To spread awareness of personal data and privacy, the APB Forum is open to the public and anyone who is interested in personal data protection can participate. In the future, the APB Forum will continue to serve as a public one that encourages citizen participation and contributes to the establishment of more effective and responsive personal data protection policies in Asia. We ask for the interest and participation of not only Koreans but also those around the world who are interested in Asia.
Edited by Seungyeon WON (Researcher, Barun ICT Research Center)