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Europe Data Protection Digest | Notes from the IAPP Europe Managing Director, 6 January 2017 Related reading: NIST launches development of 'privacy framework' in Austin

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New Year's greetings from Brussels!

A new year is upon us, and it promises to be a great one — albeit intense — for privacy pros, as you navigate the changes in organizational policies around GDPR-related data protection practices. You’d be in good company if you woke up in 2017 and quickly realized the year in store could well make 2016 look tame by comparison.

If it’s any consolation, the feelings at the IAPP are mutual; I can already sense the groundswell. Email is in overdrive, my phone red hot, and my calendar is already beginning to look a tad chaotic. We have a ton to get done — it’s the way we like it. On the upside, as a privacy pro your contributions have probably never been more at the cutting edge of organizational strategy than now. Word on the street is that recruiting experienced and trained privacy executives is a real challenge, so if you’re in situ you’re in a good place professionally. The next years could define the rest of your career in this industry.

That's a bit of pressure yes, but surely of the welcome kind.

Busy professional engagement of course can take its toll on one’s personal life, and if ever there was an EU country that has strived to legislate in favor of a balanced lifestyle, it is of course France. The French woke up to a new law in 2017 requiring French companies to guarantee that their employees do not need to check their emails after hours: "The right to disconnect." On 1 Jan., an employment law entered into force that obliges organizations with more than 50 workers to start negotiations to define the rights of employees to ignore their smartphones.

Overuse of digital devices has been blamed for just about everything, although typically we tend to worry about children and the millennial generation. Not so anymore. Increasing studies implicate smart devices as a source of everything from burnout to sleeplessness to relationship problems, with many employees uncertain of when they can switch off. This new law is aimed at reducing the intrusion of work into private lives. Applause for privacy.

Ah, to work in France: plenty of vacation and a 35-hour workweek. It is the envy of other European citizens. This particular law was part of an overall labor bill that provoked months of street demonstrations and basically divided the country. The controversy was mostly over a single provision that made it easier for French companies to make employees redundant; not a popular move in a country where it is fair to say that employment is viewed as both an economic and socio-political right in itself. Conversely, though, nearly everyone was united in supporting the provision allowing workers to walk away from emails and ignore their smartphones when they're out of the office.

It’s a complicated issue all in all; the digital culture has brought employees and employers alike a high degree of freedom and flexibility. Modern employees have reaped the additional benefits of being to able to work remotely, reducing commute time, which in turn has reduced employer costs overall. You would think this desirable for encouraging a choice lifestyle, but clearly it also contributes to blurring the boundaries between work and downtime. The new law is certainly novel in its approach, and it will be interesting to see how successful it might be. For now, companies seem to be on board and some already pro-actively recognize their employees' right to disconnect with email server restrictions in place after hours.

On the other hand, some will argue the law is counter to the way our society is evolving. Can we really expect that folks will turn off their smartphones, or resist taking a peek at their work mail outside work hours? If nothing else, the French have legislated to protect choice.

Best wishes to you all for 2017, and keep an eye on your digital dependencies.

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