Speeches by two EU commissioners, Andrus Ansip and Margrethe Vestager, highlighted the tensions for Europe in how it allows, or blocks, data being pooled and moved across borders.
“Europe should not be afraid of data” said European Commissioner Andrus Ansip in a speech on the power of IoT.
Within the single market data has to be able to flow across national borders, said Ansip.
“This is not what Europe has today,” he added, referring to legal and technical barriers that constrain such flows. He argued tax, company and health data should not necessarily be stored locally.
“Forcible data localisation rules will not lead to better protection, but to fragmentation,” he commented. The existing General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) offers sufficient protection, he added.
He also gave a nod to concerns expressed recently by the French and German governments with a reference to how enhanced data exchange could help security and law enforcement.
Later this year, the EC will present an initiative that will tackle restrictions on where data is located, including legal issues around data ownership, management, use and reuse of data, he said.
Ansip was speaking at the 2016 Digital Assembly in Bratislava in Slovakia.
For example, collecting data from connected cars can help build better cars, or teach autonomous cars to drive independently. Correctly regulated, this type of pooling can help competition, she said.
But companies have to be careful that pooling data does not give away too much about their business. “Otherwise, it might become too easy for them to coordinate their actions, rather than competing to cut prices and improve their products.”
Annoymous sharing or a limit to the type of data they share are both solutions, she said.
Data is now so important it can be central to mergers and acquisitions, in that a company might buy another to get hold of its data, even though it has yet to translate into significent revenue. So the EC is considering whether it should scrutinise mergers with valuable data involved, even though the companies concerned might not (yet) have big turnovers, said Vestager.
She also argued the need for EU-wide regulation on data. “But if we want to be able to deal with big data issues throughout the EU, then every national authority has to have the tools it needs to enforce the rules,” she said. Evidence for the need came from the Facebook/WhatsApp case in Germany.
“I think there’s a strong case for new EU rules as part of the answer,” said Vestager, with the preference for a directive rather than a regulation.
She was speaking at the EDPS-BEUC Conference on Big Data in Brussels.