As Davos in Switzerland plays host to this year’s World Economic Forum there are some conspicuous absences.  Whilst not the only missing global economic leader, the USA was the most notable.  They did not even send a delegation.

One of the main topics this year was data governance and tech regulation. Indeed, this was the main emphasis for some countries.

Leaders from China, Japan, Germany and South Africa made statements in support of greater government oversight in their own countries as well as international cooperation on data governance and collection standards.

Establishing data governance as a central theme of the upcoming Group of 20 (G20) summit being held in Osaka in June. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan issued the strongest call for tech regulation,

Vice President Wang Qishan of China also cited the need for improved international standards of data oversight.

However, he also said that the international community should respect the “independent choices” of sovereign nations in their internal handling of digital data and intellectual property.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany called for a “common digital market” to be established in the European Union (EU).

She also called for the establishment of international oversight models that are transparent and effective.

President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa committed to putting tech regulation on the schedule of topics to be addressed when the African Union meets in Ethiopia next month.

He said he supported the need for an “overarching body” of cybersecurity standards.

Countries need to come together.

Although these world leaders all supported data protection and digital regulation, there appeared to be little in the way of countries coming together in a joint effort to address the problems.

It was Japan that came nearest to any idea of a global initiative. Japan has put it on the agenda for the G20 meeting in the summer.

Abe proposed expanding World Trade Organization (WTO) rules to cover trade conducted by means of digital data.

As chair of the upcoming G20 meeting, Japan is looking to take point on the development of international data handling agreements. Prime Minister Abe referred to this as the “Osaka track” in his speech. He advocated working within the framework of the WTO, calling the plan “Data Free Flow With Trust.”

Three primary approaches will have to be reconciled for any sort of international architecture that is effective in protecting end users to take shape.

Europe has implemented the strongest fully active regulations in the world in the form of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

China’s insistence on government autonomy in tech regulation is likely tied to their broad surveillance of their citizens, some of which takes place with the direct cooperation of tech companies that are based there.

Washington DC has been largely hands-off in terms of tech regulation to date, at least at the federal level; while discussions of that nature have begun, Silicon Valley is actively seeking to have a strong influence in shaping any laws that are passed.

Tech Industry is wary of regulation.

Many tech companies and those in the tech industry are wary of regulation. Whilst some big companies have signalled their willingness to go along with tech regulation there is obviously worries around the amount of regulation.  Obviously, many would prefer as little regulation as possible.

The reality is, however, that data breaches and hacks have become something that is happening far too often and in some cases on a huge scale.  This can no longer be ignored say experts.

They present a serious threat to public safety, and tech companies seem to recognize that increased data governance and tech regulation is inevitable. Some also seek to rebuild trust in the wake of high-profile data breaches.

“A joined-up approach is what is needed around the world.”

The direction of international tech regulation and data governance will very likely be shaped by any national laws that might be in place by the time the G20 meeting takes place.

In Europe, there is already comprehensive legislation in place, but things are still taking shape in other parts of the world.

There are clearly major obstacles to international data governance standards, but 2019 is likely to at least be a year of significant progress within the world’s major economic powers.

The first major fines and enforcement actions are bringing clarity to the structure of the GDPR, China’s policies look to be cemented, and the United States will at least have some vigorous debate over the creation of federal standards.

Even though details are still scant at this point, the Osaka G20 may well be the first significant step in the establishment of a transparent and rules-based international order for protecting personal data.

tech regulation