Could you help me fix my printer while youre here? That was the punchline making the rounds on Twitter and social media following Mark Zuckerbergs appearance before U.S. Congress in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. Mr. Zuckerberg has since appeared in the European Parliament.
Aside from broader questions about the right to privacy, the Facebook CEOs appearances highlight an obvious flaw in the legislative process: For all their political and oratory skills, many politicians lack crucial technical expertise. As policy becomes more complex and struggles to keep up with rapid advances in the tech world, this could become a major blind spot.
To be sure, some politicians have a great depth of knowledge on the issue of data and the internet. Some even know the difference between pseudonymization and anonymization — or between the right to be forgotten and the right to deletion. The EU is a leading voice in the goal of protecting its citizens, and should be proud of the rollout of its new privacy standards, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
But technology is developing so quickly that some experts are already raising concerns that certain elements of the EUs new regulation — which enters into force on Friday — will be difficult to implement due to new advances.
Politicians find themselves in a constant push and pull between the need to regulate the use and protection of personal data, and the need to allow innovation to flourish. We are reticent to regulate technology that is still under development, but also wary of letting businesses exploit loopholes in outdated regulation.
Software developers and social media companies need to have a seat at the table when we discuss the future of regulating the internet.
Its a tough balancing act, and one made even more difficult by the pace of change. Keeping up with new developments in the tech world is a full-time job in itself.
To avoid creating regulation that is outpaced by technology, we need to craft laws that are based on principles that encourage privacy. But in order to get those principles right, politicians have to understand the minutiae of what they are regulating.
Thats why we need tech companies to be part of the discussion. We are most likely to succeed if we work hand in hand with those whose full-time job it is to develop and create the technology we are trying to regulate.
Software developers and social media companies need to have a seat at the table when we discuss the future of regulating the internet — and not just at the beginning of the process, but throughout. Thats our best hope of reconciling the conflict between boosting innovation and protecting personal data.
The public needs to realize that for all the fun and frivolity of social media, the constant blogging, retweeting, checking in and Instagramming has serious implications for the use of their data.
Politicians need to acknowledge the gaps in our technical knowledge and the benefit of working alongside experts. We also need to be honest with the public and make clear that good legislation will only have a limited effect if citizens dont also take on an element of personal responsibility.
The public has a crucial role to play in ensuring their data is properly protected. They need to realize that for all the fun and frivolity of social media, the constant blogging, retweeting, checking in and Instagramming has serious implications for the use of their data.
The government can legislate to prevent data theft and demand fair treatment when it occurs — as it does for the theft of physical property — but the individual needs to take responsibility for protecting it in the first place.
Consumers need to read the terms and conditions, and understand what it means when they tick a box on a screen. The goal of data protection rules is not to allow users to be passive but to give them the tools to empower themselves.
The recent Facebook data breach scandal has taught us that trust is the most vital ingredient in any business model, and that politicians dont have all the answers when it comes to legislating cutting-edge technology.
Helga Stevens is a Belgian politician and member of the European Parliament, where she is the data protection spokesperson for the European Conservatives and Reformists Group.