As policymakers around the world consider revisions to existing privacy and data protection law, they often refer to “interoperability” as a mechanism to facilitate the flow of data across national and regional borders. Reports released this year by the Obama Administration and the Federal Trade Commission recognize the value of interoperability to the growth of the digital economy and improving privacy compliance. Principles underlying the APEC framework would support a system for transferring data across APEC economies, and the OECD has acknowledged that regulatory authorities worldwide share the responsibility of promoting the protection of cross-border data flows. But although interoperability is expected to help lower barriers to data transfers, simplify compliance and protect individuals’ rights, there has been little discussion of how interoperability would work in practice.

In its special 100th edition, on May 25, 2012, Data Protection Law & Policy published “Interoperability: Facilitating the Global Flow of Data.” The paper discusses the challenges posed by the overlapping and conflicting requirements of diverse data protection regimes around the world, and how interoperability can streamline compliance without lessening protections. It distinguishes interoperability from other mechanisms that would impose the approach of one nation or region on another, suggesting rather that,
“[t]he term interoperability refers to the ability of diverse systems and organizations to work together.” The paper proposes that interoperability requires an infrastructure that includes: (1) organizational adherence to common principles; and (2) accountability and cooperation among regulators to provide oversight, resolve disputes and address instances of malfeasance.

The Centre expects the paper will encourage additional dialogue about interoperability by prompting discussion about the nature of interoperability and the mechanisms necessary to make it a reality. The Centre also will explore this issue further in future publications, and will convene a series of roundtables on the subject in the fall of 2012.