Fulbright-Schuman Grantee Looks Back on Experience Studying Data Flows, Privacy

Ambassador Gardner with the 2014-15 Fulbright-Schuman grantees. Photo: USEU
Ambassador Gardner with the 2014-15 Fulbright-Schuman grantees. Photo: USEU

Earlier this week, USEU welcomed 40 American Fulbright-Schuman and Fulbright scholars spending this academic year in EU Member States for the annual Fulbright EU Seminar. USEU representatives introduced the group to U.S.-EU policy priorities, and current Fulbright-Schuman scholars Scott Titshaw and Melissa Powers presented their research on areas of environmental and migration law. At a reception for current and former Fulbrighters, Ambassador Gardner noted how the Fulbright program has strengthened transatlantic relations for nearly 70 years. “The special nature of the Fulbright-Schuman program is a testament to the importance the United States places on our relationship with the European Union,” he said.

In this blog, Dr. Michelle Frasher writes about her experience as a former Fulbright-Schuman grantee:

USEU Public Affairs Officer Fitzgerald speaks to Fulbrighters. Photo: USEU
USEU Public Affairs Officer Fitzgerald speaks to Fulbrighters. Photo: USEU

In 2014, I received a Fulbright-Schuman award to examine cross-border financial data sharing for U.S.-EU counter-terrorism operations. With the support of the Belgian Fulbright office and my hosts at the University of Gent, Belgium, and the University of Malta, I met with EU and U.S. officials regarding the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP), the EU’s proposed data protection Regulation, Safe Harbor, and other initiatives. I attended conferences and seminars with policy wonks, practitioners, and academics. I spoke with financial institutions about governmental demands on their data and how they balance compliance with profit. I heard from technology experts and nonprofits working to reconcile the strains among privacy, civil and human rights, information flows, and national security in the digital age.

Ambassador Gardner speaks at reception for Fulbrighters. Photo: USEU
Ambassador Gardner speaks at reception for Fulbrighters. Photo: USEU

I’ve been examining financial data flows since 2008, but the Fulbright-Schuman grant gave me unparalleled access to views from across the data privacy spectrum. I learned that the divide between U.S.-EU privacy and data protection views is not limited to interstate relations; these differences extend to all data stakeholders. Presently, there are informational and educational silos among financial institutions, technologists, and politicians, and few fully comprehend the interests and operations of these groups or understand how they fit together. In a world where data flows are the lifeblood of security and commerce, this is problematic.

Fortunately, the Fulbright-Schuman experience gave me the opportunity to help address these issues. In September, I was awarded a SWIFT Institute grant to identify how multinational banks cope with conflicts between anti-money laundering (AML) compliance and privacy laws and suggest opportunities for industry cooperation. Now I liaise with corporate privacy, technology, and legal professionals in the hope that the results will overcome some of those operational barriers.

The timing of my award revealed the foresight of the Fulbright-Schuman grant’s mandate to proactively sponsor emerging and salient research that investigates “a common concern from a comparative perspective.” Shortly after I received my acceptance letter, the headlines erupted with scandal about government surveillance. My interests had taken center-stage. Long before the controversy, the Fulbright-Schuman process endorsed this research, and I am grateful for it.

The international community needs individuals and views that stimulate cooperation and innovation across sectors and sovereignties. Regional awards like the Fulbright-Schuman play a valuable role in this effort by recognizing that contemporary issues are not confined within boundaries.

Dr. Michelle Frasher, Ph.D. is a non-resident visiting scholar at the European Union Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  She is the author of Transatlantic Politics and the Transformation of the International Monetary System.  You can read more about her research at www.frasher.cc and follow her on twitter @michellefrasher. She resides in New York City.

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