Irish Minister for European Affairs and Data Protection Dara Murphy used his keynote address at the IAPP Europe Data Protection Intensive to emphasize and acknowledge the important role data protection now plays and will increasingly play in Europe. And if anyone understands the importance of smart data management to commerce, it’s Murphy. After all, the former Lord Mayor of Cork, Ireland, can say his country is the EU home of 29 of the top 30 digital companies in the world.
“One of the key priorities we set when we had our reshuffle months ago was to considerably up our role of data protection within government,” Murphy said of the recent change from former Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes to Commissioner Helen Dixon. “So we have doubled our expenditure, opened a second office in Dublin and significantly increased the number of staffing.”
Part of that change was a nod to the fact that by the end of this year, there will be an estimated five billion connected “things” in circulation, anticipated to rise to 25 billion over the next four years.
“The Internet of Things is here and growing very quickly,” he said. “Against this measure, finally in Europe, we’ve moved toward moving with more energy and speed on data protection.”
That means different things for different countries within the EU, he said. But the EU government now has three commissioners with some role in the digital data space, and Murphy said the aim is to give a single point of contact to departments that handle large amounts of data—for example, the departments of health, education and social protection.
“The theory is to have a shared common practice across all departments,” he said.
And that’s because with things growing as they are, it’s going to be increasingly important to recognize and exploit the benefits to be gained through data-sharing and analytics while still maintaining the correct balance between innovation and citizens’ rights.
“Since my appointment, the pace of the data protection regulation has picked up speed, remarkable speed,” he said. And it’s a good thing, because the laws currently regulating companies like the tech giants headquartered in the EU were developed nearly a decade before they even existed. He acknowledged that reality as “ridiculous.” The work ahead, Murphy said, is to put the right of the citizen at the heart of everything lawmakers do with an eye toward reducing administrative burdens and providing a consistent application of rules that foster an environment that creates jobs and growth while simultaneously protecting civil and digital rights and privacy.
Murphy believes the currently drafted regulation hits that balance, and he’s specifically a major supporter of the one-stop-shop mechanism, despite the fact that it’s been criticized widely in some circles. Murphy believes if it’s implemented correctly, it will hugely benefit EU countries.
“It’s vital if we believe, in any sense, in a digital single market having a capacity for businesses to function,” he said.
It’s about telling the world that the EU believes in that kind of economic success, he said, or it risks sending the wrong message to the global market about how it conducts business. And it has economic merit in itself, if the numbers map anywhere near as they’re projected—some of the figures predict a savings of two billion euros per year or more, which Murphy called huge for “a continent starved of growth in the last number of years.”
On fining power, Murphy said he stands behind fines that would be fair and proportionate, but it will be important to avoid what he called “exemplary fines.” And essential to that fairness will be clear terms within the regulation so companies know how to play by the rules that will help them avoid that very steep maximum fine in the proposed reg—five percent of global turnover.
In the end, a healthy and balanced regulation means giving Europe’s future back to the next generation, Murphy said. Growth certainly isn’t going to come from European protectionism, and the effort shouldn’t be put toward treating American companies like they’re “bad” companies. Rather, Europe should strive to be emulated through innovation, competition, research and spending in Europe itself.
“We’ve got to shift the balance back toward this continent,” he continued, “and the potential that would mean for the next generation.”
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