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Europe Data Protection Digest | Notes from the IAPP Europe Managing Director, 21 Feb. 2020 Related reading: Global News Roundup: March 30–April 6, 2020

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Greetings from Brussels!

Wednesday was a big day here in the European quarter as the EU unveiled its European data strategy and vision to enable the EU to become a role model and a leader for a society empowered by data. Shaping the digital future for Europe rests on three pillars of policy focus: namely, technology investment and facilitation that works for citizens; creating a fair and competitive digital economy; and lastly, maintaining an open democratic and sustainable democracy.

All lofty goals one might say, but surely this is and should be the stuff of vision. More practically, the EU stated it would like to see a greater utility of “untapped potential” allowing public and private actors “easy access” to the huge reserves of industrial data and information. Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, who is self-described as a tech optimist in a recent op-ed, is under no illusion, acknowledging that the depth and breadth of the new data strategy is nothing short of a massive digital transformation, covering everything from data protection and cybersecurity to critical infrastructure, digital education and skills, democracy and media, as well as promoting climate neutrality.

The EU elaborated its aim to create a single market for data, where data can flow within the EU and across sectors, for the benefit of all. To achieve this, the strategy is clear on the role of European privacy and data protection and competition law that are deemed key to success and will need to be fully respected. The rules for access and use of data need be fair, practical and clear. The European Commission also highlighted that access to the single market “is not unconditional.” To that end, the EU will be seeking to “leverage regulatory power” to advance the European approach and help to shape global frameworks. The president went on to say we will need the resources to match the ambition for Europe to be a global digital player and lead in the areas of data and AI. Such plans are in the making and being proposed to the European Council in support of the strategy.

By way of illustrating the digital potential, the EU also released some impressive stats. In 2018, the data economy (EU27) was worth 301 billion euros; in 2025, they estimate it will be worth 829 billion euros — that’s a growth factor of 2.8 times. A potentially more interesting statistic is the number of “data professionals” they predict will grow by a factor of two times from 5.7 million professionals in 2018 to 10.9 million in 2025; granted, they won’t all be working in data protection directly, but nevertheless, it’s a staggering categorization and argument for data privacy skills and education at multiple layers — the ecosystem will be sizable.

Von der Leyen quite rightly said we cannot leave digital transformation of this magnitude to chance, adding we must “ensure that our rights, protections and privacy are the same online as they are off it.” There was a fairly political undertone to her comments using the term “tech sovereignty” to mean the capability that Europe must nurture and safeguard to make its own choices, based on its own values and rules — this is a clear message to the EU’s global trading partners. The president and her team are clearly indicating that Europe is set to develop its own digital standards and promote them internationally. No easy task; there will be much to do.

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