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Europe Data Protection Digest | Notes from the IAPP Europe Managing Director, September 4, 2015 Related reading: ICDPPC establishes working group on ethics and data protection in AI

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Greetings from Brussels!

There was a relatively significant new appointment in the corridors of Brussels this week: Robert Madelin, former director general at DG CONNECT, has now been appointed senior adviser for innovation at the European Political Strategy Centre, an internal think tank advising European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

On his appointment, Madelin commented that big data is going to come into play everywhere. “We are at a time of such pervasive disruption and accelerated change thanks to digital,” he said, "that anything might be the next big winner." 

EurActiv published an interview this week where Madelin goes on to say that the data revolution is so pervasive that it’s hard to predict which sectors of the economy are going to be hit first. The senior EU official warned lawmakers against being too restrictive on privacy protection, saying it was “utopian” to believe that citizens should always be “enabled to hide”; this in spite of current revelations of mass surveillance and government spying, a mainstream preoccupation in many European countries.

He was also very forthright on the subject of medical research and heath matters, asking whether it was ethical to refuse sharing personal data in areas such as medical research. Taking the genome as an extreme example, he asked, “If big data plus my genome plus everybody else’s genome can save lives, do I have the right to say, ‘No I don’t want to share my genome with society?'” Chasing the idea that privacy will save you and then society will not have to step in is very short-termist in his view; the real problem of society is not enabling citizens to hide, it is giving citizens solidarity.

Speaking about his new role, Madelin said his main task will be to produce a report on innovation by summer 2016. The assignment is quite broad and spans policy, regulatory and financing changes that could be made at the EU level to make Europe a global pro-innovation actor.

Many initiatives have already been taken by previous commissions on innovation—including the Innovation Union, the European Institute of Innovation and Technology and the Horizon 2020 programme. So the first task will be to map the activities already happening, spot potential gaps and build bridges between different areas of work, Madelin said. Madelin confirmed that the issue of data protection—and retention—will continue to be debated as part of the Digital Single Market strategy as well as the General Data Protection Regulation.

It seems privacy and innovation are intimately linked. Does one have to give way for the other? 

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