Greetings from Dublin!
I write to you from the Emerald Isle, my hometown and the center of gravity for privacy in Europe this week, with the inaugural Data Summit hosted by the Irish Department of the Taoiseach (PM). It is quite the turnout here, with close to 1,000 registered delegates and a strong lineup of international and domestic speakers.
Moreover, if you have been following the political news here, you will know that this has been quite the week, with a flurry of political activity. Leo Varadkar was elected Ireland's youngest-ever Taoiseach Wednesday. Enda Kenny, who officially stepped down as the country’s leader Tuesday, made a short address Wednesday in the Dáil (Irish parliament) before Varadkar was proposed and voted in as the new Taoiseach following the recent Fine Gael (conservative) party leadership vote. This was fairly significant for the conference — in that his first public engagement was to visit the Data Summit in the afternoon of the first day.
Much of the success of the Summit was down to the efforts and energy of Ireland’s — and Europe’s — first appointed data protection minister, Dara Murphy, and his Data Protection Unit, headed up by Adrienne Harrington. In his welcome address, Minister Murphy spoke to Europe’s desire to ensure a balanced environment that both fosters digital innovation and creativity while protecting citizens’ rights. Ireland had made a considerable effort over the last three years in empowering the DPC’s office, quadrupling Helen Dixon’s budget to 8 million euros. Her office has also been very active in its ongoing recruitment, strengthening its staff levels threefold.
Minster Murphy also highlighted the forward-looking mission of the Irish Government Data Forum, as well as the interdepartmental committees that exist at the ministerial, state agency and local authority levels here in Ireland, which bring together a very broad stakeholder group across multiple disciplines to address the complex privacy issues of the day for a modern Ireland and Europe. Indeed, the Summit had as a core objective to reflect and develop much of that work through best-practice discussion: In the words of Minister Murphy, “As parents, businesses and educators, we need to harness the benefits of data and technology to better serve our society and economy.”
For contextual background, new research recently released to mark the Data Summit highlighted that, while data will play an increasingly important role in the growth and development of Irish businesses, a majority remained unaware of the GDPR, despite the looming deadline of May 2018 — as many as 66 percent. Again, while we might be surprised by the figure, it is not an uncommon trend across Europe. The findings of the business survey, carried out by iReach on behalf of the Department of the Taoiseach and the Government Data Forum, provide a clear and strong message that the business community acknowledges the ever-expanding role of data as a strategic asset. Optimistically, 72 percent of respondents believe data will play an important or very important role in the development of their business model going forward. However, despite a strong recognition of Ireland’s data-driven future in a world of total connectivity, the survey reveals a lack of awareness among businesses of the new data protection rights and responsibilities enshrined in the GDPR.
In fact, Dixon gave the opening keynote here at the Summit, highlighting, among other things, the continued need for organizations and individuals to have a greater understanding of data subject rights as protected under the GDPR, stating the regulation “allows all us to better understand our choices with regard to our personal data, and, indeed in some cases, driving better choice for us.” She added that GDPR recognizes a risk-based approach to implementation, where context is key in terms of analysis and risk mitigation. On the whole, Dixon sees the GDPR for the good, which will contribute to making the world a better place.
At the Irish data protection authority, they are getting ready while fully determined to play their part in enforcing that new order.
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