Regulating the future: safe, inclusive, connected

Digital World 2019 Daily Highlights Day 4

How can governments, regulators, companies and civil society re-appropriate technology for society, rather than letting it run wild with undesirable effects? How can we overcome the feeling of being overwhelmed by the pace of change in technology and powerless to respond – a backlash against technology, or “techlash”?

This was the question posed by moderator Philippe Defraigne, Founding Director, Cullen International to a panel of experts from across the regulatory spectrum. International cooperation is ever more important, according to Danielle Jacobs, CEO, Beltug and founding member (representing business ICT users), as most companies, whether large or small, work cross border and face the challenge of digital ubiquity. Regulations do not just come from differing national telecommunications authorities, but also from verticals such as health and banking; citizen approval is also often needed; the complexity means making decisions compliant with all laws and regulations is not easy.

Trust in digital media is critical, said Esteban Redolfi, Director of Digital Future Society, Mobile World Capital, as there is no recourse to the inappropriate use of personal information provided to industry or the state. “As an individual, I have no clear way of defining my rights in front of a government agency or a big corporate,” he said. It is difficult to juggle the new roles and responsibilities of government, the ICT industry, society and individuals in the digital society – and even in more developed societies such as Europe or the US, citizens are way behind in terms of digital skills. Cooperation and debate should take place not just in UN or intergovernmental events, but also in schools, families and amongst ourselves, so we can come together from different backgrounds, discuss and find common ground to build trust.

Director of Consumer Policy at GSMA, Jade Nester focused on the importance of ensuring customer privacy and establishing responsible data practices across the ecosystem to establish trust. Smart privacy laws need to balance data protection against enabling innovation. But “developing guidelines, principles and legal frameworks is not enough to get people to understand how their data is used.” The solutions to mobile privacy are not clear-cut and the digital economy can be very complicated – but we need to break down what is happening, to understand and better manage it, because “powerlessness leads to fear, and this is not a good scenario for people and government.”

Sophie Maddens, Head, Regulatory and Market Environment Division, ITU urged a balance: there is a natural fear around the new and unknown, but we must not forget the goldmine of wonderful possibilities opened up by connectivity, the potential for inclusive education, health, financial services, better lives. The industry has evolved from a public service to a liberalized, competitive private sector, with the regulatory role adapting to each stage. Now we are in a new era of collaborative regulation, where we can see how ICTs can be leveraged to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals on a previously unimaginable scale, but where the regulatory challenges are also new and complex. Data research and analysis, peer exchange on practices and ideas, publishing and sharing knowledge – collaboration at this level will reduce the fear of the unknown and help regulators build institutional capacity and knowledge.

“Connectivity is an arms race at the moment,” said Jason Harle, Assistant Manager, Deloitte in terms of getting product out that is always on, always available, smart and on demand. Perhaps we should back to the consumer base, to see what we actually need to improve lives, finding out the value of new propositions rather than adopting a top-down regulatory approach. Engaging with the industry, public bodies and consumer groups will enable the regulatory landscape to be defined upfront, rather than leaving regulators playing catch up.

Echoing his fellow panelists, Marcin Cichy, President, Office of Electronic Communications, Poland urged knowledge and transparency to build trust and counteract fear. The value-added chain is complex and difficult for regulators to penetrate, understand, investigate and impose obligations.  In the past, regulating the pipe was easy; but now it is impossible to regulate what is going on inside, the huge variety of content and complicated devices. Synergy between different vertical sectors and telecoms makes for an additional layer of complexity, as do privacy initatives and cybersecurity authories, which often combine military and technology bodies. Add in the regional and international regulatory regimes and “It’s a bit of a mess,” he admitted.  

The soup of regulatory regimes, rules, and industries is complicated by growing end user awareness of privacy and data protection, multiple stakeholders and competition between systems. There are horizontal global laws, and vertical laws in each sector. It is not easy to know with which regulator or regulations a business should comply in any give instance – or if, indeed, there is any relevant regulation. Overlaps and gaps characterize the system.

And those overlaps often lead to turf wars between competing authorities, a lack of understanding and awareness that can only be resolved through a collaborative approach – and an investment in increasing human capacity.

We need dialogue between regulators, the public sector, the private sector, tech and legal experts, said Esteban Redofi, Director of Digital Future Society, Mobile World Capital. Only by talking to each other can we become aware of the consequences of technology in the round – and work to resolve those issues of trust with the potential to cripple innovation and development by providing legal clarity and certainty for business and consumers alike.

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