Jason Oxman photo
Speech: The Next Data Decade – In Europe and Beyond

On March 5, 2020, ITI President and CEO Jason Oxman delivered the following keynote speech before the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland’s Transatlantic Conference in Dublin, Ireland. View the speech, beginning at the 3:09:00 mark, and the subsequent panel on the topic, here.

Good morning. First, I’d like to thank the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland for inviting me today, and to the sponsors Aer Lingus and Matheson.

My name is Jason Oxman, and I am the president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council, or as we like to call it, ITI.

ITI is the world’s premier advocacy, policy, and thought leader for the technology sector. We are based in Washington, D.C. with an office in Brussels and representatives in Delhi, Beijing, and São Paulo. Our members represent 70 of the most dynamic innovators and companies on the planet, many of which are also members of our hosts today.

These companies develop hardware and software, pioneer cybersecurity solutions, lead in cloud-computing innovation, and represent some of the world’s most well-known internet brands. They also manufacture microchips, cars and machinery, provide consulting services all around the world, and enable small businesses to export. They operate globally, and many of them, in one form or another, choose to call Ireland home.

In fact, I can think of few better venues than Dublin to discuss how data will be driving the way that we do business across all sectors in the next decade, and how smart policy can enable businesses, citizens and governments to harness the social and economic value of that data. Despite having the 19th largest population among all EU member states, Ireland places second in terms of its digitally-enabled exports with a whopping $142.6 billion.

If the last decade is any indication, data – and its movement across borders – will continue to play a fundamental role in driving innovation, economic growth, and inclusivity in our society. In the last decade, the world witnessed the advent of the smartphone, the creation of algorithms that can better diagnose diseases and lead doctors to better treatments and even cures, and the rapid advancement of foundational technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain.

The “digital economy” has become all but a misnomer. For consumers and companies of all sizes, across all industries, data flows and digital technologies have fundamentally changed domestic commerce and international trade. Firms rely on data to advertise and engage with customers, discern market demand and adapt products and services, operate production systems, manage workforces and expenditures, monitor supply chains, and conduct a range of other day-to-day business activities. Start-ups leveraging new technologies and access to internet platforms are born as global firms. Students based in Tokyo can take university courses from professors in Leiden.

And, importantly, people in my home state of Maine can livestream funny cat videos created and uploaded in Jakarta. The internet is truly a marvel of modern society.

The statistics bear out this economic reality. By 2022, 60 percent of global GDP will be digitized. Cross-border data flows increased by 45 times between 2005 and 2015 and have expanded current global GDP by at least 10 percent. Seventy-five percent of the value added by data flows on the Internet accrues to “traditional” industries, especially via increases in growth, productivity, and employment.

Alongside this spectacular economic transformation, a range of new and compelling policy questions have emerged. Governments around the world are developing new approaches for tackling legitimate policy priorities, from the protection of personal data, to the appropriate regulation of emerging technologies, to international taxation in a digitalized global economy.

To address these questions, governments will naturally pursue the policies they perceive to be in the best interest of their citizens. However, when it comes to data and emerging technology, national policy approaches increasingly have significant international effect. For that reason, “the next data decade” will be defined by policy approaches that shape both how we engender necessary trust in data and technology, and how companies do business for years to come.

There’s no question: Europe will continue to play a leading role in digital policy. How it does so will have a tremendous impact on the tech industry, society beyond its borders, and the next generation of innovation.

Building on that premise – and taking advantage of my time here in one of Europe’s most advanced technology hubs – I would like to talk about the future of data in terms of what are certain to be globally influential policies coming out of Europe.

Technology policy – and the notion of technological sovereignty, specifically – is at the core of the new European Commission’s agenda. Last month, the Commission published several important documents laying out its vision for data, AI, and digital policy for the next five years. Even before concrete proposals are released, this vision sets the tone for how Europe – and governments around the world – will respond the continuing digital revolution in the next decade.

In its “Shaping Europe's digital future,” the Commission gave us a high-level, broad-ranging strategic vision for digital policy in Europe for the next five years. Among its key points, the Commission outlines a new legislative framework for data governance, a possible Data Act, a review of competition rules, a Digital Services Act, the upcoming Industrial Strategy Package, a Communication addressing business taxation for the 21st century, and a new Consumer Agenda.

Alongside this ambitious communication, the Commission also published an Artificial Intelligence White Paper that introduces a mix of funding and legal requirements to advance AI in Europe. The paper sketches a policy path for Europe to become a global leader in this foundational technology while addressing its economic and social implications in a manner that supports innovation and helps European companies thrive.

Finally, a new European Data Strategy sets out a range of different measures aimed at firmly establishing the EU as a leader in a data-driven society. The strategy envisions the creation of a true single market for data, a goal we strongly support.

Taken together, these recent publications represent an ambitious and laudable agenda. We welcome that Europe’s vision for digital policy foresees significant investment in research and development and seeks to promote legal certainty for business.

Improving Europe’s ability to develop key technologies and ensure their broad availability across the EU is an unquestionably legitimate policy priority. We strive to be a constructive partner for the European institutions as they set about the important technical work of translating these policy documents into concrete approaches in the coming months and years.

That’s why, this week, ITI issued our own set of recommendations outlining concrete steps that policymakers can take, in partnership with industry, academia, civil society, and other stakeholders, to advance the implementation of Europe’s technology agenda.

Our recommendations address the economic and social implications of technology while recognizing the public interests at stake. We address 10 key policy areas. I’d like to concentrate on four of these: artificial intelligence, data governance, privacy, and international cooperation.

Let’s start with artificial intelligence. ITI and its members share with the EU the firm belief that the responsible development and use of AI is an essential part of building trust in the era of digital transformation. The ethical development and use of AI ought to be driven by shared, common values like trust, fairness, explainability, effectiveness, safety, and human oversight. Our industry is leading work to address the main challenges posed by AI, including the need to mitigate bias, inequity, and other potential harms in automated decision-making systems.

We encourage policymakers to leverage the work of the private sector – including work currently being undertaken in a range of global standardization bodies – to develop AI policy that is flexible to match the rapid pace of technological development. Context – and risk – are key.

As the EU and other economies develop policy approaches to AI, we must remember that the AI ecosystem is global, and the technology is not developed in regional siloes. Many applications of AI used in Europe are comprised of both European and non-European elements developed in different locations and in line with global, industry-driven standards.

And of course, the advancement of AI – and digital innovation broadly -- is not possible without data. Large and diverse datasets from the private and the public sectors enable technology developers to innovate across industries and meet the needs of individuals and society in unprecedented ways.

For example, analyzing data and producing customized recommendations based on learning from a large pool of similar cases can revolutionize the delivery of healthcare and facilitate a new wave of personalized modern conveniences. Much of this functionality will be built upon insights gleaned from non-personal data sets – that is, data which is anonymized or not directly relatable to a specific individual.

How Europe governs this data will have ramifications for how economic actors all over the world materialize its benefits. The EU can realize data’s fullest potential by continuing to invest in and prioritizing the institution of effective data governance initiatives. These include making sure both business-to-business and business-to-government data sharing are voluntary; making public data more accessible; and creating opportunities to collect and distribute data responsibly through data-sharing agreements.

Finally, any discussion of data cannot omit privacy, a topic on which Europe has led the way. The GDPR has had a global impact on many governments’ efforts to create and update privacy legislation. Among many other things, with GDPR, the EU has demonstrated that robust privacy legislation can still allow for the predictable, transparent and non-discriminatory movement of data across borders.

At ITI, we continue to urge governments across the globe, above all in the United States, to follow Europe’s lead with the GDPR and to advance robust privacy norms. In an effort to better inform ongoing privacy discussions globally, we developed the “Framework to Advance Interoperable Rules (FAIR) for Privacy”. FAIR provides a roadmap toward the goal of protecting privacy and personal data to advance the interests of individuals, businesses, and governments.

While there is no single approach to privacy that works for all jurisdictions, stronger and more coherent principles on data protection globally mean people have more control over their personal data, and that businesses can benefit from more confidence and trust. Strong privacy protections are not in opposition to innovation; in fact, robust privacy rules, combined with strengthened data governance, can jumpstart innovation.

And as the EU has demonstrated, strong privacy protections also need not be in opposition to the cross-border movement of data.

This is important. The concept of the data-driven economy is increasingly synonymous with the global economy. Though the digital policies recently laid out by the Commission may emanate from Brussels, and principally concern the Single Market, their application to data and data-driven technology imbues them with inherently global implications. For this reason, international cooperation in the development of interoperable regulatory approaches has never been more important.

We embrace the Commission’s statement that the notion of technological sovereignty is not about protectionism, but about developing stronger players on key technologies in Europe. Among our recommendations, we urge Europe to maintain its long-standing commitment to free trade and multilateralism, including through its domestic policies. At no time in recent history has Europe’s leadership with respect to these principles been more important.

The various policy approaches I have mentioned today reflect a perspective on how governments can address emerging risks while enabling the immense benefits that data-driven technologies offer society. However, it’s no secret that many countries are actively pursuing policies that unnecessarily restrict the access to and movement of data, and limit the ability of entire populations to benefit from and develop new digital services and technologies.

Confronting these policies requires strong tools, and the political will to develop them. What is ultimately at stake is whether like-minded economies are prepared to do the hard work of developing coherent, collective solutions to complex, cross-border policy challenges, of which there are many in today’s global policy environment.

While the challenges are great, so are the opportunities. In the words of one very notable Irishman, “the optimist sees the donut, the pessimist sees the hole.” When I look at the world, I see an awful lot of donut. As was the case during the last decade, the next will see unprecedented data-driven innovation far beyond the tech sector. Industry and entrepreneurs, as they always do, will continue to advance, innovate, and excel.

In the public sector, like-minded governments are collaborating in incredibly meaningful ways, working to operationalize concepts like “data free flows with trust,” developing new digital trade rules, and advancing collective approaches to global challenges like climate change. In today’s political climate it can be easy to see the hole, but there’s no denying the progress of the last decade, and I’m confident we’ll see that progress accelerate into the roaring ‘20s.

The next decade is in many ways Europe’s to lead. Europe has already demonstrated its ability to set the direction of global tech policy. As the EU moves its agenda forward, we encourage it to embrace the positive societal benefits of transformative technologies and preserve an enabling environment for innovation to ensure Europe’s global competitiveness and security.

ITI stands ready to be a constructive partner in working with the EU make this vision a reality.

Thank you.