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On the 19th of February 2020, the European Commission presented its strategies for Data and Artificial Intelligence envisioning a digital transformation that will work for all within the EU and will promote the values of openness, fairness, diversity, democracy and confidence according to its claims.
While no legal framework has developed, the proposal is a roadmap for the upcoming legislative reforms.
In two policy documents termed:
In this article we are focusing on the European Commission's Strategy Plan, its objectives and key actions as announced by the Commission. We are closing by addressing issues and points of concern and that EU Member States may face in the process of implementing the revised Data Strategy.
In a nutshell, according to the European Commission's plan:
“The European data strategy aims to make the EU a leader in a data-driven society. Creating a single market for data will allow it to flow freely within the EU and across sectors for the benefit of businesses, researchers and public administrations.
People, businesses and organisations should be empowered to make better decisions based on insights from non-personal data, which should be available to all.”
Three key objectives are identified by the EU Commission:
A Single Market for Data:
“The EU will create a single market for data where:
The EU will become an attractive, secure and dynamic data economy by:
Examples of Industrial & Commercial Use:
In order to support its argument in favour of the propsed plan and reforms the European Commission brings some examples of industrial and commercial data use and the corresponding operational and financial benefits:
The increase of global and EU data volume is projected in the following table:
The European Commission goes on to further outline the key actions to be undertaken namely:
The President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “Today we are presenting our ambition to shape Europe's digital future. It covers everything from cybersecurity to critical infrastructures, digital education to skills, democracy to media. I want that digital Europe reflects the best of Europe – open, fair, diverse, democratic, and confident.”
A notable passage in the European Data Strategy document is the one referring to the Use of Data for the Public Benefit.
Data for the Public Good:
"Data is created by society and can serve to combat emergencies, such as floods and wildfires, to ensure that people can live longer and healthier lives, to improve public services, and to tackle environmental degradation and climate change, and, where necessary and proportionate, to ensure more efficient fight against crime. Data generated by the public sector as well as the value created should be available for the common good by ensuring, including through preferential access, that these data are used by researchers, other public institutions, SMEs or start-ups. Data from the private sector can also make a significant contribution as public goods. The use of aggregated and anonymised social media data can for example be an effective way of complementing the reports of general practitioners in case of an epidemic."
Points of Concern:
The plan of the European Commission is ambitious but challenges and obstacles lie ahead.
1. Common Standards and Interoperability among EU member States:
This is one of the challenges EU will face as e.g. the ability to share and access medical data across the EU is not uniform and lacks the common standards that allow for interoperability. The infrastructure is not universally (from all Member States) there yet and steps need to be taken to this direction.
2. Federated Cloud Infrastructures vs Infrastructures of Tech Giants:
The European Commission has demonstrated a deep understanding of the importance of e.g. the risks of depending on tech companies based outside the EU. The ability of the EU to come up with coherent and working laws that make a difference is not guaranteed though, bearing in mind the technological, economic and lobbying power of tech companies whose influence on the market is trying to limit. Furthermore it remains to be seen whether there will be consensus among member states.
3. Balancing between Data Privacy & Open Data Access:
Another question is how much privacy will have to be sacrificed to the end of effectuating the Data Strategy the EU Commission envisions. One may argue that without sacrificing data privacy the EU will find it increasingly hard to keep pace with the US and China. Yet, data privacy is one of the core values and ideals of the EU.
The EU data strategy should define the conditions under which proprietary and sensitive data should be shared with third parties, as well as define the mechanisms via which it will secure this data.
4. GDPR Concerns:
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), that has preceded both the newly released Data Strategy plan and the White Paper on Artificial Intelligence of the European Commission, limits the ability of businesses in the EU in collecting and using data. Some of the GDPR's requirements, such as the requirement to minimize data collection or the requirement to retain data for limited periods of time, restrain the amount of data available to organizations to train and use AI systems and this is in stark contrast with the values promoted in the White Paper of the Commission on AI.
The Commission's policy documents cite Regulation (EU) 2016/679 (GDPR), Regulation (EU) 2018/1807 (free flow of non-personal data in the EU), Regulation (EU) 2019/881 (Cybersecurity) and Directive (EU) 2019/1024 (Open Data) as key elements of its digital mission. In theory, the Strategy would take all the above into account.
Yet, the above points of concern highlight some of the issues that may be raised on the road to implementing the Commission's strategies. Finding common ground and consensus among EU member states, prioritizing and balancing between public values, as well as building the necessary infrastructure and interoperability between member States, formulate some of the challenges that lie ahead.
Public values, indeed, seem to be high at the agenda EU's Data Strategy. Still, an integral part of this strategy should be focusing in leaving no scope for misuse by Governments, companies etc. within the EU while implementing the plan and - hence - particular attention has to be drawn upon balancing and preserving certain public values while promoting others. Especially in relation to meeting privacy expectations, it seems that a challenging task (for regulators and legislatures) lies ahead.
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About the Author |
Ioannis Valmas LLB, LLM, (MSc) is Managing Partner at Valmas Associates and a Greek trial attorney and legal advisor that has represented – almost exclusively – since 2008, overseas clients (from government bodies to private individuals) for their administrative, business and personal legal matters in Greece gaining a stellar reputation abroad. He has lived abroad for almost a decade and earned several degrees from UK Universities. He has attended seminars at US Universities (Harvard and Stanford Law Schools). He has been a member of the Athens Bar Association for over a decade. He is appointed before the Court of Appeals and licensed to practice law throughout the territory of the Hellenic Republic, Greece. His writings on Greek Real Estate Law, Aviation Law and Shipping have been widely published in recent years by publishers in Greece and abroad.