Friday 16 March 2018

"I Heard a Siren from the Silicon Docks"

Happy St. Paddy's Day to all the Irish out there and to those non-Irish who just want a reason to drink Guinness.

The Irish may be the largest diaspora in the world. Some 80 million people worldwide claim Irish heritage; this, from a country whose peak population reached 8 million. Even those not so well-versed in history know that oppression sent millions to emigrate or to their deaths. Poverty was a major struggle up until the Celtic Tiger in the 1990s, after decades of European Union structural funds propelled the economy to the top tier. It was an opportune time, as a fledgling tech industry would soon grow into a major global force. Many of the biggest tech companies in the world now have headquarters in Dublin; they have rebuilt the docklands - a once dirty old town of warehouses and factories - into a glittering, glass and steel mini city known as the Silicon Docks. If you've ever been to Dublin, you'd marvel at the changes over the last twenty years. It's a whole new world.

One reason the tech companies flocked to Dublin was its weak privacy laws. Data drinking companies like Google and Facebook were able to build massive data empires in part because these laws made privacy virtually an afterthought. Ireland's Data Protection Commissioner has been repeatedly challenged in courts by the European Union, and a new EU privacy law may open the floodgates for more litigation.

The EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will restrict how tech companies collect, store, and use personal data beginning 25 May 2018. Businesses and organizations that fail to comply with GDPR will be fined 20 million euro or 4% of their global annual revenue, whichever is higher. 

The Irish government is trying to make the state exempt from provisions of the GDPR. A massive 132 page bill is still under debate with some rather bizarre points, such as reducing the age of consent from 16 to 13! Irish data protection experts are universally opposed to the bill, which they say, "has the potential to kill data protection enforcement in Ireland and will take years of litigation to fix.”

So why is Ireland opposed to data protection? For one, most businesses in Ireland are not prepared for the GDPR changes. Then there is the government itself that feels it is not prepared and worries that any fines on its public bodies may drain the budget and prevent them from fixing the problems that led to the fines in the first place.

These issues will be discussed in April at the Dublin Data Sec 2018 conference. Let's hope Ireland can get the bill sorted out before the GDPR deadline. In the meantime, here's to all the Irish out there. 


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