The generation of data is growing at an incredible rate, with new potential uses for it keeping pace. According to the International Data Corporation “ Worldwide Big Data Technology and Services 2012-2015 Forecast”, big data technology and services are expected to grow worldwide at about seven times the rate of the ICT market overall. This explosion has created a significant opportunity to generate new forms of economic and social value. But for data to flow well, data processing solutions must ensure users’ continued engagement and trust. Trust that their fundamental right to data protection and privacy is protected, will generate users’ demand for services, which in turn will drive innovation.
The reality has been quite different, however. High-profile data breaches and abusive access of personal data by Government agencies seem to be reported every day. The negative impact that the NSA scandal had on transatlantic data transfers truly shook the global digital market resulting in individuals losing trust in how organizations and governments are handling their data. More recently, the European Court of Justice’s Schrems decision was another blow to international data flows. The Court explicitly said that U.S. laws and privacy practices compromise “the essence of the fundamental right to respect for private life”. Many also question whether certain EU States also engage in practices below the standards defined by EU law.
As Governments on both sides of the Atlantic hurry to find solutions to safeguard transatlantic data flows, stakeholders should engage in an open debate on the best approach for establishing rules that allow data to flow in a trusted manner. Central to this discussion is the involvement of both companies and individuals so that a culture of privacy protection can be developed.
Of course, there are different and competing interests in this debate. Some businesses would argue that data protection requirements should be relaxed to promote innovation. Others, on the other hand, see the fundamental right to privacy, not as a cost, but as a competitive advantage. We couldn’t agree more, as we have said in the past: data access is only meaningful if people can trust that their fundamental rights will be respected. Indeed, it is by embracing trust-enhancing solutions that businesses promote customer loyalty, encourage consistency and efficiency, and facilitate international expansion.
ISOC has long recognized that in order for the Internet to be trusted, channels for secure, reliable and private exchange of information have to be guaranteed. At this time of reform, we call on our political decision-makers to strike the right balance between the fruitful use of data and protection of privacy. Such decisions should follow a multi-stakeholder debate. ISOC strongly supports the principle embodied by the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which declares that it is not only governments that should have a say in the development of the Internet, but rather anyone who has a stake in the future of the Internet. The success story that is the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) clearly shows that, as we grow more digitally interdependent, public and private stakeholders need to come together to lay the ground for a more secure Internet environment. Getting privacy rules right is, undoubtedly, a social and economic imperative.
Image credit: Neal Sanche on Flickr – CC BY-NC 2.0