Good data protection law should not throttle innovation

17/12/2012
Blog posted by Nick Stringer
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Nick Stringer, the IAB’s Director of Regulatory Affairs, explains why the EC's data protection reforms should remain a top priority for 2013.

As we begin to trawl through the many ‘five digital marketing things to look out for in 2013’ articles over the next few weeks, there is one thing that we should all prioritise in 2013: making sure that the European Commission’s data protection reforms do not set the sector back 10 years.

In January 2012 the European Commission proposed changes to the way personal data is protected and regulated across EU markets. It’s motives were driven by a need to update existing law (eg UK Data Protection Act 1998) in light of technological change, a need to streamline the law across markets to make it easier and more efficient to conduct business, and – most important of all – afford European citizens with a strong level of data protection and accountability.

There appear to be very few who disagree with these motives: the development of the internet and the importance of data now means that we now conduct our lives very differently. From how we’re more productive at work, how we communicate, read, buy and share things and how we access and use public services. The collection, use and exchange of data has led to new business models, new innovations and new benefits for citizens. And the internet is global, connecting us up in a way unheard of a few years ago.

But – as the draft proposals get debated in Brussels – it appears that these motives have been forgotten, overshadowed by detailed discussions about a set of prescriptive proposals that may thwart evolving innovation, prevent ‘start ups’ from competing, wrap consumers up in a ‘click hell’ and stall the UK digital economy by making the data environment so restrictive to advertising and ecommerce models. I’m not sure that this is what the drafters really wanted. They are a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

The UK Government understands the need for a proportionate and balanced approach – one that provides strong data protection but does not throttle innovation. It recently published an Impact Assessment which showed that the draft proposals will actually cost businesses, in stark contrast to the European Commission’s own claims that it will save businesses money. But the UK is only one voice amongst 27 across Europe. Failing to get these new proposals right will set Europe’s Digital Agenda back by years. Business will just go elsewhere and we – as consumers – will be worse off as a result.

First published on ThinkBR

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