Last week I sat in a crowded Brussels conference room packed with EU policy makers. You could almost smell the fear in the room about where the world was headed, but almost no one raised the obvious question: post-Brexit, post-US elections, and now with the collapse of a pro-EU Italian government, does the European Union matter anymore?
For almost 60 years, the European Union or its predecessor has led the world in safeguarding individual citizens’ freedoms. The crowd I was addressing is particularly focused on ONE of those freedoms: privacy. The group included people who wrote the very law designed to guarantee citizens’ privacy in the digital age, the pioneering General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
But the world is taking a dramatically different turn: toward disunity, discord and away from DATA PROTECTION and toward DATA SOVEREIGNTY.
In a world of nationalists, who protects citizens’ data when it goes global?
ZB was developed over the last 36 months to provide a EUROPEAN cloud service to give businesses an ALTERNATIVE to the dominating US services of Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive. And our service was designed with the GDPR in mind.
What we didn’t anticipate 3 years ago was that Governments across the globe would challenge the basic concept of DATA PROTECTION with a range of DATA-SOVEREIGNTY requirements.
- In the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Russia, national leaders have announced their intent or already enacted laws to require that data created within their borders is either wholly hosted in those territories or that the meta data attached to that content is accessible by national or regional authorities.
- In this, they are essentially following the lead of the USA.
The idea of DATA PROTECTION is VERY EUROPEAN: it’s an approach that focuses on the rights of the CITIZEN.
DATA SOVEREIGNTY focuses on the responsibilities of the NATION and GOVERNMENT, as the leaders of those governments understand their responsibilities. The USA Freedoms Act is a very clever form of DATA SOVEREIGNTY that goes well beyond America’s national borders: any data on any servers owned by a US company are subject to US surveillance.
With the election of Donald Trump and his close association with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, US surveillance will become a key tool, used for whatever ends the new President decides.
- Data Protection is under direct threat.
If the European Union wants to stay relevant, it must do one thing now:
If the EU believes in DATA PROTECTION, with the aim of protecting European citizens’ rights, then it should follow the example of the US: encourage innovation in DATA PROTECTION through serious enforcement of the new GDPR AND, equally important, INVEST IN EUROPEAN ALTERNATIVES. What does this mean?
- The GDPR has to have TEETH. Companies must know they will be fined for basic violations of individual citizens DATA RIGHTS. This is FAR from understood by the majority of companies doing business in Europe at the moment.
- The Commission should INVEST in the CLOUD in the same way the US government did to help build the US dominance of the tech industry. Except investment in cloud services is DRAMATICALLY less expensive than computer hardware.
As a proud European – AND American – it’s clear to me Europe has to lead in this endeavour to make DATA PROTECTION a key right. Time is running out for the EU to make a difference.