22 May, 2015

ETNO ThinkDigital interview – EU Ambassador to the US David O'Sullivan talks internet platforms, TTIP, privacy and protectionism concerns


The European Commission has just launched a new Digital Single Market strategy. Which implications does it have for US and international stakeholders?

Just like the 1992 Single Market created the conditions for people and businesses to move and trade freely across borders within the European Union, the Digital Single Market seeks to do the same for the new digital environment we all live in today. The backbone of this Digital Single Market will be 16 legislative and non-legislative actions that ensure better access to digital goods and services, create an environment where digital networks and services can prosper, and maximise the benefits of digitalisation for Europe's economy.

Today's reality is that all of our economy is - directly or indirectly - digital. The Digital Single Market strategy recognises this fact and, building upon the Digital Agenda for Europe, will make sure that the policy and regulatory environment is fit for this purpose.

Europe is already the most open region in the world for business. Ultimately, the Digital Single Market strategy will further integrate Europe's economy and thus make it an even simpler place to do business.  This is true whether we are talking about investments from the US or from elsewhere.

Some critics say that the new European Commission might be taking a protectionist view with respect to US tech companies. What’s you take on this?

As I spelled out in a recent Wired op-ed, we reject this notion. The changes brought about by the digital revolution require careful choices, not emotional reactions; discussions based on facts, not fears.  And the facts show that that Europe loves the Internet, loves technology, and our economy is open to investments. When the EU takes action against companies over antitrust concerns or other obstacles to our free and open market, it is strictly based on the merits of our laws and regardless of whether a company is European, American or from somewhere else.

When you ask people to name one domain in which Europeans and Americans are different, most will mention privacy. Are our policy approaches that different? Do you see consumers sharing similar interests and concerns on both sides of the Atlantic?

I don't see major differences between the U.S. and Europe when it comes to the importance of privacy – let us not forget the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the many decisions of U.S. Federal Courts and of the Supreme Court itself on this topic, the ongoing vibrant debate in the U.S. on the appropriate balance between security and privacy, and the active interest of both the White House and Congress to create stronger privacy protections for U.S. citizens and, within the limits of the Constitutional structure of the U.S., for non-citizens as well. 

On the other hand, it is clear that the U.S. and Europe have different ways to tackle this complex challenge. But this should not prevent us from having a dialogue – as we currently do, for example, in the context of the Safe Harbour arrangements, the Umbrella Agreement for the exchange of data for law enforcement purposes, and the recent bill introduced by Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner to provide judicial redress for non-U.S. citizens in case of privacy violations.

One of the key actions of the Digital Single Market strategy is to assess the role of online platforms, in particular their transparency, use of information, the relationship between platforms and suppliers, and how to tackle illegal content on the Internet. In a similar vein, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has announced that in early June they will host a workshop on emerging Internet platforms and the economic activity they facilitate. So we are both circling around much needed assessments of ways in which the policy and regulatory environment can and should cope with these emerging  dynamics and how to ensure the interests of consumers and citizens, including privacy protections.

TTIP negotiations are high on the agenda of both the EU and the US. What’s in it for growing our digital markets?

Both our economies depend heavily, directly and indirectly, on Information and Communication Technologies. The overall goals of the TTIP agreement -- ranging from improved market access to cutting red tape and facilitating easier transatlantic trade and investments -- are going to benefit horizontally all businesses, whether they are primarily operating in the IT sector or rely on IT for their operations, marketing, value chain, etc.

The U.S. has publicly expressed its priorities – for TTIP and other trade agreements – when it comes to the digital environment. The Obama administration calls them the “digital dozen” and they include prohibiting digital customs duties, enabling cross-border data flows, and preventing localisation barriers. Let me be very clear on this point: the EU, as the most open market on the planet, has nothing against ensuring that the benefits of digitalisation and ICTs can accrue to all sectors of the economy, and is ready and willing to discuss what the U.S. would like to see in TTIP, within our negotiating mandate and the respect of our laws, including the protection of privacy and personal data.

By Alessandro Gropelli for #ThinkDigital, 22 May 2015


David O’Sullivan, Ambassador of the European Union to the United States of America

David O’Sullivan's biography can be found here

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