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European Commission - Speech - [Check Against Delivery]

Speech by Vice-President Ansip at the Digital Assembly 2016 in Bratislava, Slovakia: "Europe should not be afraid of data"

Bratislava, 29 September 2016

Speech by European Commission Vice-President Ansip, in charge of the Digital Single Market, at the Digital Assembly 2016 in Bratislava, Slovakia.


Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen,

Imagine waking up in a room whose temperature is exactly as you want it.

Your sleep-tracking wearable device has already switched on the lights.

The app knows you are awake, so the coffee machine starts to brew.

A fantasy of the future? Not really.

The 'smart home' is fast becoming a reality.

This technology already exists.

Manufacturers are now marketing smart fridges that can suggest cookery recipes and connect your family to the local grocer to place orders.

More importantly, smart digital gadgets help people to look after their health.

When they notice anomalies, these devices inform the doctor.

They remind people to take their medicine. They facilitate - and even provide - e-nursing and e-health services.

It may have been easy to dismiss the Internet of Things – the IoT – just as something that reminds you to buy more milk.

But as it has developed and expanded, it is transforming every industry - locally and globally.
The IoT will raise the quality of living.

Ultimately, it has the capacity to prolong and save lives.

Connected devices are bringing IoT appliances into the category of "not only fun but incredibly useful to have".

From the kitchen to the car, from the home to the hospital, to the city.

And people will want to have them.

Consumer habits are changing.

Cisco estimates that 50 billion devices and objects will be connected to the internet by 2020 – vastly more than today. This kind of growth creates unprecedented opportunities for industries, businesses and people.

There is no doubt about the strong demand.

Smartphones are a good example. Their ownership is booming. By 2020, 70 percent of people will have one.

Increasingly, the main function of smartphones is not to make calls. They are also used as portable video screens, digital wallets, authentication tools or health monitoring devices.

With these new demands on network infrastructure, it will also make high-speed networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before.

Global internet traffic is due to exceed one zettabyte by the end of this year.

By 2020, it will be more than two zettabytes.

It is why we put connectivity at the heart of our reform of the telecoms sector.

It is why we set targets for high-speed coverage throughout Europe by 2025.

It is why we are incentivising investments to get the right infrastructure in place.

Of course, it is not only about getting people connected.

I mentioned the change in consumer habits brought by the digital age. It might be more accurate to say "seismic shift", for people of all ages and lifestyles.

Recently, Airbnb published a report on their older hosts, aged 60 and over, who use the sharing platform to open their homes to travellers from around the world.

In Europe, they are its fastest-growing demographic and consistently the best-rated Airbnb hosts. Their numbers have almost doubled in the past year.

To me, this says clearly that new online uses and technologies are not just for geeks and teenagers.

Digital technologies have also transformed how creative material is produced, distributed and accessed. For many, digital has become the main way to enjoy entertainment.

In Europe today, around 49% of internet users go online to listen to music, watch videos and play games. The share of young people doing this is much higher still.

So we also took a detailed look at our creative sector – and our copyright rules.

The main aim is to expand the amount of material available online, in particular across EU country borders.

We also address the effect of platforms and new online uses in the creative sector, to make sure that artists get fairly paid for their creative work.

In all areas, our policies have to adapt to the fast-moving digital age, to reflect new realities.

They need to be flexible as well as stable.

Flexible: because we need to be able to react to new circumstances as well as technical progress.

Stable: because investors and businesses need to know that the entire environment is not about to change.

It is not always an easy balance to strike. Two areas – telecoms and copyright - are especially sensitive.

So I welcome the Slovak Presidency's help and commitment to turning our plans into a reality for all Europeans, by making the Digital Single Market a top priority. 


Ladies and gentlemen,

I started by talking about the IoT and how it will transform us.

But what is really transforming us, and has been for some time, is data.

The IoT, and other emerging growth sectors like cloud computing, is driven by data.

These sectors are also likely to become major sources of data in the future.

As I have said before – Europe should not be afraid of data.

Data is the basis of our digital future and prosperity. Data will drive our competitiveness and economic growth.

But if data does not flow freely across the EU, then the growth potential of the digital economy in Europe will be limited.

Within the single market, data has to be able to move across national borders and in a single data space.

This is not what Europe has today.

Instead, we have a series of legal and technical barriers that constrain cross-border data flows. I have heard advocates of these restrictions refer to data protection and security as reasons to keep limitations on free movement of data in place.

Let me be clear.

The vast majority of these constraints have nothing to do with protecting privacy or fighting security threats.

Let me give you few examples. Why should company data, tax data, book-keeping data, financial and all health data be stored forcibly inside particular borders in a single market?

What the public authorities need, in terms of data, is access rather than storage.

Denmark is a good example.

Denmark recently changed its laws on book-keeping data. Danish companies can now store their data anywhere, as long as tax authorities have full access.

Forcible data localisation rules will not lead to better protection, but to fragmentation. This will be to the detriment of benefits for citizens, consumers, SMEs and society.

It is exactly for this reason that the European Union has adopted a new data protection framework that guarantees the highest level of privacy protection throughout its territory.

With the General Data Protection Regulation, we have set a new gold standard that not only applies to all EU Member States but has global ramifications. Localising data goes directly against the spirit of this new regulation.

And of course, security and privacy should support each other.

It is possible to ensure more security and more effective data protection safeguards without any artificial rules on data localisation.

This would allow national security and law enforcement authorities to enhance data exchange within a secure environment. It is why we are preparing measures to improve interoperability of Member States' information systems.

Some say that combatting forcible data localisation is an area where the European Union should not act.

I say it is precisely the issue where we need to act now, before it is too late.

Barriers like data localisation not only prevent economies of scale.

Data localisation also holds back the Digital Single Market. It is not good for Europe, its businesses or for technologies.

So, later this year, we will present an initiative to tackle unnecessary restrictions on where data is located.

We will also look at legal issues surrounding data ownership and management, use and reuse of data, access to data - to prevent any of them from stifling innovation.


Ladies and gentlemen,

By the end of this year, the European Commission will have presented all major initiatives outlined in our Digital Single Market vision paper from May 2015.

It has been a lot of work so far. But the real work is only just beginning and none of it is easy. And there is much to be done under the Slovak Presidency.

Here, I am thinking of the proposals we presented during the first half of 2016 on cross-border portability of online content, on spectrum and geo-blocking. We should move forward as soon – and as much – as possible in these three files.

With all our initiatives, the bottom line is to make the data economy work in the European Union. It is essential for innovation, growth and jobs.

After all, we are building the foundations for our digital future. And we need to get it right.

Thank you.



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