In today’s world, it can often seem as if our faith in digital solutions has become synonymous with our perceptions of the future in general. Talk of the digital future conjures up images of reduced bureaucracy, greater transparency and the automation of routine procedures. Like most people, I am an enthusiastic adherent of new technologies and regularly discuss the benefits of innovation. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that these benefits will only come via the correct overall approach. Identifying the correct path is not always straightforward, given that the rules of this new digital world are taking shape around us on a day-to-day basis. This is why it is so important to maintain a public discussion on the implementation of any electronic solutions, especially at the governmental level.
Not so long ago, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy issued a decree on the development of a single portal of electronic services. This is a welcome initiative, of course. Nevertheless, it is vital to understand the legal framework for this portal. It is no surprise that immediately after news of President Zelenskyy’s decree, some experts recalled that Ukrainian personal data protection legislation has been in place for a long time but actually has relatively little in common with contemporary realities. The current situation is reminiscent of an advertising banner obscuring a dilapidated façade. It looks OK from a distance, but it does not stand up to closer inspection.
Getting the legislative framework right is crucial. Laws are the basis on which all digital government programs and smart initiatives operate. In Germany, for example, legislation in the field of personal data protection first appeared in the 1970s before undergoing strict revision in the 1990s. The country’s legislative framework continues to develop and evolve to this day. Thanks to this ongoing process, owners of private property can have houses removed from online panoramas, while video surveillance cameras as prohibited. To be more precise, they are not subject to complete prohibition, but the images they capture are not admissible as evidence in court, which means that filming often makes no sense. Naturally, these peculiarities can create certain difficulties. Companies must always collect consent when engaged in data processing, with even tourists forced to comply with legislation. The result is an excess of bureaucracy that also guarantees the observance of rights. This suggests that not every bureaucracy is bad as it can also often protect the rights of ordinary citizens.
Another example is France, where the tradition of protecting personal data has evolved in line with public protests and citizen activism. Initially, the French state tried to create a single database, but this initiative faced resistance from civil society. Another recent example is the case of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, which seriously damaged the reputation of the social network and even led to the announcement by Mark Zuckerberg of a strategic shift in emphasis towards more private communication. In the wake of this scandal, the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) got the green light. This allows residents of all European Union countries to feel safe, not only while active on social networks, but also in real life, where they face heightened security and privacy concerns due to the increasing spread of sound and image recording devices.
In the United States, the legislative framework is more varied. There is no single federal law. Instead, individual states have their own nuances. In 2018, the most technologically advanced state in the country, California, passed the Consumer Data Privacy Act (CCPA), which will enter into force in 2020. This two-year gap aims to allow companies to prepare for the coming stricter requirements. Interestingly, major market players including Apple and Microsoft supported the adoption of the law.
What are the prospects in Ukraine? When it comes to modernizing, we traditionally rush to achieve results by skipping over previous stages in the process. This tendency can lead to the emergence of less than ideal hybrids. Instead of resulting in structural changes, the outcome is often the rejection of technologies as a whole. There is no doubt that it is necessary to approach the adoption of new technologies with a sense of urgency, but also meaningfully and thoughtfully. We urgently need electronic systems and digital solutions to improve monitoring and access to information. All this is fundamentally important for the future of the country. However, the process should move in tandem with the development of the necessary legislation, so that we do not eventually end up regretting premature attempts to jump into the future.