From Well Begun to Data-Driven by Default

Photo: Finnish Government/Sakari Piippo
Minister of Transport and Communications Anne Berner

“Well begun is half done”, five famous words of Aristotle. Interestingly enough, the sentence is found in his work Politics. Is well begun half done a fitting guideline even today, in our efforts to achieve the Digital Single Market?

According to the recently published European Commission’s mid-term review, there has been considerable progress in the EU’s pursuit of harnessing digitalisation for the benefit of its enterprises and citizens.  For example, its modernised data protection rules are the most ambitious ones in the world. By combining our dedication to protecting citizens’ rights with the enhancement of business opportunities, these rules will surely serve Europeans in the digital era.  Still, there are areas that need more attention – such as online platforms, cybersecurity, and the data economy.

Giants of commerce, communications and mobility, online platforms have rapidly become an inseparable part of the internet world. Global European platforms are still a rarity, but with determined policy work there is no doubt that the world’s biggest markets can generate global success stories.

The internet, on its part, is becoming more and more intertwined with physical objects – connected devices, automation, software employing artificial intelligence. Such objects are already in everyday use, making cybersecurity all the more important. We have to have trust not only in each object individually, but also in the network as a whole. When malware can lock computers and block services, investing in security builds this much-needed trust.

Overarching Principles for a Data-Driven Digital Single Market

When it comes to the data economy, we are still in the early stages.  Certainly, there has been a lot of talk since the European Commission introduced the initiative Building a European Data Economy. The question of how to use data is one of the most complex and challenging issues we have to solve. But how do we solve it? How do we tackle data-related questions so ubiquitous in every sector of the single market? From energy to transport, from the mobile phones in our pockets to the sources feeding us, data is present.

I propose defining overarching principles for data use that will then be applied through sectorial work.  We should achieve interoperability and the free flow of data within and between different sectors, platforms and services, and we need to acknowledge the rights of individual users, citizens and businesses.

These principles should include privacy and security by design, open access to data by default, as well as quality and interoperability requirements to enable data portability. We need generic toolkits to address the need for structured digital contents and decentralised management of data, as well as trust networks to clarify liability questions and support scalability. For instance, by applying these principles, the MyData model allowing people to better manage their data overcomes the dichotomy between data use and privacy, and enables them both.

These principles would empower citizens and create an open environment fostering innovation and competition. Furthermore, they would be in line with better regulation policies: in other words, these guiding principles would provide a coherent single-market-wide framework for different initiatives. They can be incorporated as needed into the most suitable level from industry standards to legislation.

For the single market to thrive, every new initiative should be future ready, and data-driven by default. Why is this important? Simply when we regulate data-related questions today, we are regulating the possibilities of tomorrow – and in the digital age, tomorrow comes much sooner than expected.

Following through on the Changes

In the mid-term review, the Commission presented its next steps to building a European data economy. Removing unjustified data localisation restrictions is a sound goal and we must find an appropriate way to reach it. Commission also plans to examine questions related to data use. I have great expectations. I believe European companies can become global game-changers in the data economy if we are able to provide them an environment that encourages innovation.  Data storage alone will not take them there.

The Digital Single Market strategy has had a promising start. Yet, when it comes to living up to the expectations of our businesses and citizens, well begun is not enough. Now is the time to show courage and follow through on the changes.

Anne Berner
Minister of Transport and Communications