1st Annual Digital Economy Congress

September 4th, 2013

Author: Richard Purcell, CEO, Corporate Privacy Group

Not all trends are created equal.  Some are just silly personal affectations that last for a few weeks or months and others are more enduring.  Since Marco Polo’s famous trip to Asia, global trade has endured, creating and fueling a vast number of trends, fueled by specialized services, multicultural markets and technological advances.  While the Polo family’s adventure took 24 years round trip, more than 700 years later, we are enjoying the newest trend in global trade – nearly instantaneous cross-border data transfers.

Trade in physical goods and services have created the benefits and challenges of cross-border trade agreements, like the North American Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.  In addition to dealing with subsidies and tariffs for goods and services, NAFTA sought to eliminate other trade barriers and to protect intellectual property rights as well as creating a dispute resolution process as it liberalized trade among Canada, the United States and Mexico.

Now, in the post-recession decade, cross-border trade is accelerating, led primarily by digital data flows supporting health, energy, entertainment and other industries.  At the 1st Annual Digital Economy Congress, we want to start a dialog that leads to something like a NAFTA for information transfers, focused first on information privacy and security protocols, that helps break down the regulatory issues across our three neighbour countries while embodying solutions for protecting information for the sending and receiving parties.

We established this two-day congress to facilitate a tri-lateral dialogue between the United States, Canada and Mexico on protecting the data flows that are vital to our combined digital economies.  The economic activities that result from cross-border data flows continue to grow exponentially, as do the risks and challenges of managing this information to enhance trade, serve unique markets and comply with different regulatory frameworks.

Cross-border information transfers and sharing are necessary for a thriving digital economy.  We believe our dialogue can help  our countries develop and support interoperability among national regulatory schemes, commercial success and consumer protection.  Regulators from the US, Canada and Mexico will be on hand to discuss the opportunities and challenges for companies to optimize data exchanges and citizens to control their personal information.  Business experts will present real-world challenges and solutions.  And civil society advocates will remind us of the importance of values such as transparency, fairness and oversight.

Our objective for this event is to start, not complete, the dialogue that will lead to a broader understanding about the mutual needs for secure, robust and trusted data flows that businesses require and regulators need to meet the needs of our economies and citizens.

We would be unrealistic to claim our objective for this first event as being to achieve the kind of harmonious understanding that we all seek to assure the health of trade-oriented data flows.  What we can say is that the parties must have a dialog in which all stakeholders, primarily the business interests, supported by the policy and operational parties, participate.

We believe that the event will achieve the kind of balance needed to stimulate this dialogue by putting forward, first and foremost, the challenges businesses face, such as securing the integrity of the data as well as assuring the compliance with personal information management, and then engaging in the conversation at a depth that exposes the most salient issues to begin a path toward a solution.