Data Protection wars - what is at stake for whom under the new EU Directive

A recent Spiegel (German perspective but written in English) article gives an excellent layman’s summary of the strategic divides in the debate over the new Data Protection Directive. The trench warfare is very much messier as the lobbyists fight battles of attrition until the budgets of those representing SME or consumer interests are exhausted but the view from twenty thousand feet helps show what the “General’s” have in mind on this sector of the “Western Front”: the struggle to make a reality of the Digital Single Market.

Meanwhile on-line business, including the processing of personal data by both public and private sectors, is increasingly routed via the US or India and the revenues taken in whatever politically stable trading location offers the most attractive mix of tax, confidentiality and security. 

What therefore should be the views of those who really do want a measure of control over their personal data?

Who do not trust their own government or their Doctors’ receptionist with their data?

Who do not want it accessable to US lawyers, the Federal government and its suppliers or sold by the staff of an Indian call centre?

Who do not want to see the shops in their high street closed down because they cannot compete with those dodging VAT and Business Rates, let alone Corporation tax by routing UK transactions via a mix of Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta and the Channel and Cayman Islands? 

Watch what is about to happen when IT meets politics in the real world of recession.

Spiegel has done a good job looking at the battlefield from 20,000 feet but now take a look at the view from a spy satellite: the strategic positioning as Governments discover that World War 3, in Cyberspace, is under way and has many fronts: not just denial of service, industrial espionage, IPR theft and fraud. Governments are discovering that they have to compete for the taxable revenue streams they need in order to survive, let alone for the tax generating industies and jobs of the future that they need in order to thrive.

In that context “On-line Free Trade” is as helpful and meaningful (or not) as “Free Trade“. We should, however, also note that in the World Economic Forum “Global Enabling Trade Report” the US comes below most of the Nordic nations (including the UK and Germany) and just above France. The idea that an US-centric Internet might be a bastion of “freedom” or of “free trade”,  probably died with the Patriot Act , including its controls over money laundering.

In summary, the Spiegel Article is most helpful, but is still myopic – like most techno-centric visions.

So what sparked this blog?

Two days ago I was asked to lecture to an “IT Leaders” Master’s Course at a leading University. The audience are mainly the next-generation CIOs of major organisations (already in senior planning or delivery roles) spending their week-ends discussing the problems they already face, let alone those to come. I therefore dusted off my script  on why CIOs have to take the politics of IT seriously if they are to win a place on the main board and help their organisation survive and thrive despite the crass, confused and conflicting political, regulatory and fiscal regimes within which it has to operate. Then I received an FIPR alert copmmending the Spiegel Article – and thought about adding it to the advance reading list.

On monday I am due to chair the first meeting of the executive of the Conservative Technology Forum meeting in 2013, including a review of the programme of policy studies. Central to that programme will be not only the need to encourage players like Facebook, Google, IBM and Microsoft to treat the UK as a profit centre (where key functions are based, staff employed and taxes paid) but also to attract and foster their future competitors from around the world and grow our own. “Free trade” may be a meanlingless mantra but “mere protectionism” is almost always self-defeating and “enlightened self interest” requires an understanding of how the world works as well as of what is at stake for others, not just your own organisation.  Hence also the need for robust inputs to EU regulatory debate if we are not to be better off by leaving. Perhaps, however, the best argument against leaving is that the bureaucrats in Westminster are no better than the eurocrats in Brussels – the only “real” difference is that the latter can obfuscate and produce meaningless compromises in more languages.