Current trends and global discussions on cross-border data sharing

Legal enforcement of cross-border data sharing is often still unclear and can require specific legal expertise to navigate. Following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and growing recognition of the importance of cross-border data sharing for pandemic surveillance, countries are seeking to clarify and build new cross-border data flows trading agreements.

The World Health Assembly's meeting in late 2021, for example, is expected to move towards creating a pandemic treaty to enable greater sharing of health data across borders, but this may only apply in emergency contexts, and the implications for data-sharing processes will be unclear for some time.

Within Europe, cross-border data sharing is governed by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The ‘Towards a European Health Data Space Initiative’ describes how health data can be utilised across borders more efficiently. Work to date includes mapping the potential data journey across seven touchpoints. The next step is to identify best practice and process requirements for how data is collected, reviewed and shared for each of these seven stages of the data journey. This work is expected to be completed in early 2022. The group will then make recommendations on the required evolution of legal and policy contexts to facilitate greater cross-border data sharing. There is a proliferation of pilot projects to share data across borders. For example, a pilot initiative has begun between Finland and France to clarify how data can be shared across borders for improved population health outcomes, while still adhering to the relevant data protection regulations. Globally, bodies such as the World Economic Forum are also researching obstacles to data sharing and mapping opportunities to resolve barriers to health data sharing between countries. These types of initiatives provide opportunities for more stakeholders to participate in the development of solutions. There are multiple bodies and consultation processes taking place that allow organisations to influence discussions and actively participate in shaping future global data policies.

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