It will be great when it’s finished

(Digital single market and data protection)

Someone told me that’s what they say about Brussels. On my first trip this week, I could see where they were coming from – cranes in the sky, building sites, road blocks and dust. However I only ventured from my hotel to the EU Parliament, so I’m probably being a little unfair.

I’d been lucky enough to be invited by techUK and Coadec to join a delegation to the European Parliament with fellow technology companies to meet with a series of MEPs. The visit came at a critical point in EU negotiations on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and follows the launch of the European Digital Single Market (DSM).

Digital single market and data protection – will it be great when it’s finished?
So in terms of a digital single market and data protection regulation, can we apply the same logic in terms of “it will be great when it’s finished”. I’m certainly no expert, but from the discussions over the last 2 days, there are clearly still some issues about the scope of personal data; the challenges of gaining meaningful consent to data use; the right to undertake profiling and questions about the practicality of joint liability between data controllers and data processors. It is also clear that there will be significant costs and some uncertainties for small but growing companies who want to make sure they are fully compliant across the EU.

It’s a matter of trust
In Estonia, I learnt that the general public would easily trust the government with their personal data but would shy away from shops and the private sector having access to it. Their advanced e-prescriptions and digital ID card being testament to this approach. However it seems to be the opposite in other parts of Europe including the UK, with multiple store cards and easy acceptance of cookies on every website we view, being in complete contrast to us having full trust in digital health records.

But there are glimmers of hope – Technology enabled care and mHealth solutions enable people to take charge of their own health, wellbeing and lifestyle, supporting them to feel safer, live more independently and with more confidence. The overall outcome being to reduce time spent on appointments and free up health and social care resources.

We need to build confidence for consumers in the use of personal data, but also confidence for healthcare professionals in order for them to let go, to some extent, and take managed risks.

Facilitating interoperability and safe and efficient handling of electronic data between health and social care and across national and organisational boundaries is a key issue. Barriers could be overcome by sensible meaningful consent.

Fast moving technology needs fast moving guidance

So we need smart legislation and we need it quickly, not only to catch up with the fast moving technological landscape, but also to allow a way for it to be kept up to date in real time. Some countries remain very sensitive about their data and moving towards a potential single data controller for all countries isn’t going to be easy.

But in order to protect all people in the EU we need proportional protection and meaningful consent to allay the digital anxiety that currently exists and move to an era where innovation isn’t stifled and digital optimism prevails.

Let’s work together to make sure it will be truly great when it’s finished!

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