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A Digital Future and Data Protection: Digital security and opportunities

Brazil-Ireland Seminar

A Digital Future and Data Protection: Digital security and opportunities

13 September 2018

Keynote address by Minister Pat Breen T.D.

Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business,

EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection


I would like to thank Rector Marques, Cristina Russi and her colleagues here at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) for hosting the event here today. Brazil is embracing internationalization and the longstanding partnership between UERJ and Athlone Institute of Technology and the Royal College of Surgeons are two important examples of such cooperation. I welcome this cooperation and I know that we can continue to build and grow these links in the future.

I am also grateful to work in partnership with Professor Carlos Affonso Souza and ITS Rio.  Their mission to ensure that Brazil and the Global South can take an appropriate response to the challenges presented by the digital age is very close to our own goals at home in Ireland and in Europe.  

We see Brazil as an important partner both internationally, where we work closely in forums such as the United Nations, as well as bilaterally.  

I had a fruitful discussion with your Minister Kassab for Science, Technology, Innovation and Communications in Brasilia this week and I am pleased that Ambassador Prisco is able to join us today.   I am sure that his experience as Consul General for Brazil in San Francisco gives him particular insights into the potential a digital future holds for Brazil.

On the 25th of May of this year the data protection regime in Europe was transformed with the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation, also known as the GDPR. 

I understand that Brazil has drawn inspiration from the European Union and just last month signed into law new rules on data protection.

For that reason, I thought today it would be helpful to share the Irish experience on digital issues and to outline how we have adapted to the new world of data protection.

The new data rules have had wide-ranging effects for businesses, for charities, for ordinary individuals.  

I have been told that many of you here in Brazil have already received emails as a result of the new rules asking for your consent for your information to be stored.

Today I want to share my strongly held view, that these changes should not be feared. Rather they can ensure transparency to citizens and even give a competitive edge to business.

I am also keen to hear from you about the extraordinary digital transformation which is already taking place here in Brazil.  After just a few short days here, I can see already that Whatsapp seems to have already become the dominant form of communication!

Research and educational links between Ireland and Brazil

The pace of transformation is incredible. 

Plans are presently advancing on a fibre optic cable that will directly link Europe to Brazil improving connectivity to help boost business and scientific and cultural exchanges between the two continents.  

In 1827 and 1828, nearly 3,000 poor emigrants, mostly from the Irish counties of Cork and Waterford, made an arduous transatlantic journey to Rio de Janeiro. 

Now data flows between the two continents are effectively instantaneous.

Research and educational collaboration between Ireland and Brazil is already profound. 

Ireland was the fourth most popular destination for Brazilian students under Science without Borders and our universities and institutes of technology received over 3,300 bright Brazilian students during this period.  

Brazilian students continue to see higher level education in Ireland as a passport to an international career.

For our part, we know that today’s international students are tomorrow’s leaders, entrepreneurs and investors.  

Many Brazilian students have already helped establish research links with Brazilian Universities and new partnerships were formed with support of the Irish and Brazilian governments and funding agencies.

Rio de Janeiro is at the heart of our research collaboration.  In April of this year, over 100 researchers from Ireland and Brazil gathered here to consolidate their partnerships and build new ones.

Working with Ireland, Brazilian researchers have been able to receive support from EU funds through programmes such as Horizon 2020.  

Horizon 2020 is the European Union’s Programme to support Research and Innovation and is a key part of the EU’s ten-year strategy for jobs and growth. It has a budget of €75 billion and runs from 2014 to 2020. Ireland has won over €500 million in competitive EU funding from Horizon 2020 to date.

One such project led by Trinity College in Dublin has linked European experts to researchers across Brazil. This programme has won 3 million euro in Horizon 2020 funding to create an internet experimentation lab between Europe and Brazil. 

Brazilian and Irish researchers are already working at the point where wireless and optical technology meet.

Sustained investment in our research system has been driving the upward trajectory of our research rankings and we now stand 11th in the world in terms of the quality of our research.

Key among this are the Science Foundation Research Centres which are focused on strategic areas of importance to Ireland, delivering excellence with economic and societal impact.We now have 16 of these world-class research centres, many focused on the digital future, on Big Data, Software and Digital Content and on Telecommunications.   These research advances are underpinned by close collaboration with industry.

Ireland´s digital experience

Ireland has emerged as one of the tech capitals of the world and is home to a huge array of dynamic Irish tech companies and the location of EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) headquarters for many of the world’s leading names.

Apple has been based in Cork since 1980. In Dublin’s Silicon Docks, you’ll find the EMEA Headquarters for social media giants Google, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. E-commerce stars Amazon, Etsy, Zalando, Groupon, PayPal, AirBnB and Uber are all based in Ireland, along with household names in IT such as Siemens, HP, Intel, Dell, Microsoft and Symantec. While Dublin’s Silicon Docks area has rightfully earned its name for being the centre of Ireland’s tech scene, there are large clusters of tech activity all throughout the country, particularly in our other cities such as Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford.Home-grown Irish companies span a wide range of fields, from mobile payment tech, game design and cloud computing solutions to embedded tech, the Internet of Things and data security. Irish firms are breaking ground in many of these sectors. We are proud of the technology eco-system we have been able to build and we are also proud of our values and conscious of rights of the citizen.  

We have worked to achieve a balance between these legitimate interests through the new EU data protection system so both citizens and businesses can share from effective data protecion rules.  

Addressing the European Parliament on the 17th of January of this year, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland, Leo Varadkar outlined our vision for the future for Europe.

He made a call “for the completion of the Single Market and the digital Single Market and above all a Single Market that serves the interests of all our citizens and not just corporations”.

Whilst our nearest neighbour, the United Kingdom, might be leaving the European Union in the near future, the Irish people are overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in a Union which reflects our values and our interests.

The Europe that Ireland wants is one which is prosperous and competitive, safe and secure, sustainable, socially responsible and capable of shaping globalisation.

Earlier this year, I was proud to host a meeting in Dublin of the EU Digital 9+, a group of the nine top-ranked European countries on digital issues, plus two other countries who share similar ambitions for the Digital Single Market.

We have worked hard to take our place as a front-runner in Europe when it comes to digital issues

Ireland ranks first in the European Digitisation Index for the share of young people holding a STEM degree (Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths).  

Many, of course, will have studied side-by-side with Brazilian friends in Irish universities thanks to the Science without Borders programme.

Whilst we are making progress, we remain focused on maximising the potential of our economy and enhancing our performance.

Getting ready for data protection

Central to our strategy is the development of an environment supportive of Ireland’s tech and data sectors.

This includes taking measures to ensure our approach to data protection in the digital economy is best in class globally.

One of the key steps that we have taken is to establish a Government Data Forum.

This Forum, which I have the privilege to chair, brings together a range of experts from industry, civil society, academia and the public sector to advise Government on the opportunities and challenges for society and the economy arising from continued growth in the generation and use of personal data.

This is part of our efforts to establish Ireland as a thought-leader in the area of Data.  

In June of last year, Ireland hosted the first Data Summit, a major conference bringing together more than 80 key international, European and Irish speakers and over 900 attendees to debate the opportunities and challenges arising from the Data Society.

I look forward to speaking at the second such Data Summit which will take place in Dublin on the 19th of this month. This event will be a key element of Ireland’s work to demonstrate real leadership and drive the debate in the development of policy and best practice around the area of data and data privacy.

We also worked hard to prepare for the entry into force of the General Data Protection Regulation in May of this year.

The GDPR is designed to provide greater protection of citizens' privacy rights. It is designed to achieve greater transparency from companies on how they are using any personal data they collect.

The GDPR has given each of us greater control over the use of our personal data.

For example, it has given us the right to obtain details of how our data is being processed, the right to obtain copies of data held, the right to have it corrected, and the right to have that data erased where there is no legitimate reason for its retention, effectively a right ‘to be forgotten’.

GDPR also means that, for the first time, individuals may seek compensation through the courts if they suffer damages arising from breaches of their data privacy rights.

To ensure these rights are upheld, organisations will have to abide by strict standards. They will be required to tell people, in clear language, why and how their data is being used.

Companies and organisations will also have to take steps to reduce the risk of a data breach. Failure to do so may expose them to substantial fines – of up to €20m or 4pc of global turnover – or to restrictions in their capacity to process data in the future.

The emphasis often placed on the rights of the individual can cause companies to perceive the change as daunting.

I would like to respond borrowing the words of that great Irish writer Oscar Wilde: ‘what seems to us as bitter trails are often blessings in disguise’.

It is important not to fear the new data rules because there does not need to be conflict between the protection of our data and a digital future.  The two can be complementary.

For Brazilian like for Irish companies, being able to demonstrate compliance with data protection rules can offer competitive advantage in domestic and international markets.

I think that the interest in this seminar today shows not only that Brazilian businesses and organisations know that the Regulation is coming but also that they are being proactive in terms of preparations.

Preparations are essential.

Under the GDPR, the Office of Ireland´s Data Protection Commissioner is the lead supervisory authority for many high-tech companies that have their European headquarters in Ireland. 

Recognising this important role, the Irish Government have been able to increase the funding of the office significantly from €1.7m in 2013 to €11.7m in 2018.

This six-fold increase in resources means that the office is now among the top tier of the most highly-resourced national data protection authorities in the European Union. 

Office of the Data Protection Commissioner has had a key role in our preparations. Well before the Regulation came into effect, they undertook an extensive awareness campaign.  

Their dedicated website offers guides to assist Ireland´s small and medium sized companies prepare for the change.

Businesses are being challenged to reevaluate their approach to cybersecurity. They are being given an opportunity to consider how they can better manage their data flows.

Companies that are able to distinguish their products through data privacy standards will be able to win customers. 

Through greater trust and transparency, the relationships between companies and consumers can be transformed. 

The Irish experience shows that preparing for data protection can bring a competitive edge bringing benefits for both businesses and for citizens.

I would like to thank you for your attention this afternoon and look forward to hearing about the Brazilian experience.

-          ENDS