Protecting our data infrastructure through some new approaches to privacy – Microsoft On the Issues – Microsoft

 |   Julie Brill – Corporate Vice President for Global Privacy and Regulatory Affairs and Chief Privacy Officer
In 1824, the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris, France, became the first asphalt roadway. The Champs-Élysées literally paved the way for the city’s future and ushered in new physical infrastructure that changed how contemporary society moved, worked, lived and organized itself.
Governments, civil society and industry are beginning to understand the value of data to society in much the same way they considered the importance of thoroughfares 200 years ago. Just as these roads ushered in a new era of physical infrastructure that helped society thrive then, today we are beginning to understand the need to invest in modern approaches to our data infrastructure that will enhance economic growth and innovation, support individual empowerment and protect us from harm.
During the pandemic we saw many vivid examples of the value of our data infrastructure and its extraordinary potential to help humanity through necessary advances in health care and research.
The Covid-19 crisis became the mother of invention that incentivized organizations around the world to shift their approach to enable more immersive sharing of data while building trustworthy frameworks that enhanced privacy. We have also seen that the lack of clarity around regulatory requirements for health data inhibited responsible sharing and, in some parts of the globe, important research has been suspended or is at risk.
Privacy regulation: critical support for our data infrastructure
One of the lessons we should take away from the pandemic is that we need to reframe how we talk about data and regulation. The question civil society, business, academics and governments should be asking is not if we can use data but rather how we can enable responsible data use to create a better world and protect fundamental human rights.
Accompanying this new framing, we need new metaphors to describe how data is a critical building block for our economies going forward. Rather than talking about data as “the new oil,” as academics, politicians and industry leaders have been claiming for years, let’s start to think about data as “infrastructure” that will be the foundation for helping us construct a resilient and responsible global society.
Just as our physical infrastructure of roads and highways needs to be used appropriately, maintained and protected, so does our data infrastructure. To maximize the benefits and minimize the harms of our data use, we need privacy regulations to serve as our global rules of the road that preserve our ability to use and share data across borders, supported by innovative tools and solutions that protect privacy and empower individuals.
A strong regulatory foundation with clear guardrails will allow our data infrastructure to thrive.
New approaches to regulation to support our data infrastructure
As we reframe our focus to support data use, let’s examine the regulatory approaches that have been working, and develop new approaches where needed to enable the responsible use and sharing of data.
Among the approaches we should consider:
Addressing an urgent challenge
Our challenge of enabling the responsible use of our data infrastructure through a robust global regulatory framework has never been more urgent. We need to modernize our approach, innovate and leverage technological advancements that protect privacy and ensure data use for society’s benefit.
Above all, we should embrace an appreciation for data as a strategic part of our infrastructure that needs to be used, maintained and protected, and create regulatory support that will unlock insights to help us build a healthier and safer planet.
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