EU Digital Strategy – The best way to predict your future is to create it…

Shayhan Patelmaster | Senior | Law | +44 207 9809 507 |

On 19 February 2020, the European Commission published two important documents which sketch out its view of the digital future of Europe:

  1. A White Paper on Artificial Intelligence (available here)
  2. A European Strategy for Data (available here)

These important documents give some valuable insights into the future direction of travel in relation to key disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data and machine learning, as well as how the EU will seek to regulate this space to protect individuals whilst at the same time encouraging innovation and the growth of technology driven businesses.

 Interesting points that are quickly apparent on reading these documents include that:

  • These documents represent the first pillars of a new digital strategy for the Commission. In the global fight to be the most business-friendly location for data-driven business, the EU is positioning itself as offering a consistent and clear regulatory landscape which is both business-friendly and consistent with European values. Whether this is achievable remains to be seen.
  • The Commission recognises that current rules already address some of the emerging issues in relation to AI and other disruptive technologies. For example, EU anti-discrimination laws already apply to AI systems and data protection rules already operate to restrict the use of facial recognition technologies. Consumer protection and product liability rules also protect individuals from some risks of AI products and services. However, the Commission will be inviting views and encouraging debate on further protecting individuals as these technologies develop, and the White Paper on Artificial Intelligence encourages stakeholders to submit comments on its proposals as part of an open public consultation which will run until 19 May 2020.
  • The Commission acknowledges that any new regulation will need to be flexible enough to leave ‘growing room’ to account for the rapid development in the field. There is also an acknowledgement that without a unified EU-level approach to regulation, there will almost certainly be a fragmented regulatory landscape in the near-future as Member States implement local rules. For example, the proposal of the German Data Ethics Commission to implement a five-level risk-based system and the Danish proposal to launch a ‘data ethics seal’ are expressly referenced as examples of such potential fragmentation.
  • The aim of the data strategy is to create a genuine single market for data and to enable the EU to be leading role model for a data-driven society, both in the private and public sector. The Commission proposes an updated legislative framework governing increased data usage between a growing number of participants whilst adhering to the strict requirements of the existing data protection legislation.
  • A number of legislative measures are proposed to boost the data economy in the EU. The first priority will be to enable a legislative framework for the governance of common European data spaces within particular sectors. The Commission will then work on an implementing act to enable more high-quality public-sector data sets to be re-used by innovative SMEs.
  • Businesses should be free to decide to whom and under what conditions they grant access to and share non-personal data across sectors. The Commission plans to propose a ‘Data Act’ to govern such cross-sector sharing and empower participants in the data sharing economy, along with possible evaluation and harmonisation of the relevant IP legislation.
  • Other legislative proposals include putting together a coherent framework of the applicable rules for cloud services – a ‘cloud rulebook’ – and the development of common standards and requirements for the public procurement of data processing services.
  • With these steps, the Commission plans to launch an ambitious and wide-ranging legislative project in relation to its data strategy over the next few years, in order to transform the EU’s data driven economy into a world leader for the benefit of businesses and its citizens.

Businesses will need to familiarise themselves with the contents of these documents so that they are aware of the regulatory proposals relevant to their business and so that they are able to comment on the proposals of the Commission (if desired). If you have any questions on how these regulatory proposals may affect your business, please do get in contact with us.