Future of Privacy Forum Launches its Asia-Pacific Office Led by Dr. Clarisse Girot
The Future of Privacy Forum’s Asia-Pacific office launches today in Singapore under the leadership of Dr. Clarisse Girot. As Director of the FPF Asia-Pacific office, she is responsible for developing and implementing FPF’s strategy in the world’s biggest and most populated region.
We have asked Dr. Girot to share her thoughts for FPF’s blog on Asia’s role in the global conversation on data protection law and policy, its key characteristics, as well as the balanced role FPF Asia will hold in the region.
1) What are the key characteristics of data protection law and policy developments in Asia?
Dr. Girot: The first characteristic of these developments is their intensity, and legal uncertainty as a result: legislative and regulatory activity in data privacy in Asia is happening at an unprecedented pace. The adoption of EU GDPR has been an essential driver behind these developments, but endemic factors also play a role: major data breaches have occurred in most countries, and a series of privacy controversies have confronted citizens, companies, and governments, this region just like elsewhere. At the same time, the massive development of the digital economy, the emergence of unicorns, and local tech champions have sharpened the ambitions of many countries to enhance their status as tech powers, data hubs, etc.
Major jurisdictions have thus proceeded to a general upgrade of pre-existing laws, including some of the oldest data protection frameworks in the world (New Zealand, South Korea, or Japan, for instance), but also more recent, say “second generation” laws like Singapore’s PDPA. China’s National People’s Congress is expected to adopt the Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL) before the end of the year, while the process of adopting the Data Protection Bill of India could be concluded, after several years of waiting. These texts will be groundbreaking, if only because China and India are the two most populous countries in the world.
The second characteristic, amplified by the first, is the fragmentation of legal systems, with variations that make any regional compliance effort particularly difficult. These variations also create gaps in protection that are prejudicial to individuals, as well as gaps in the capacities of regulators to cooperate.
The third is that APAC jurisdictions have very diverse cultural norms and economic priorities. Some laws are more explicitly grounded in human rights considerations, some are focused on “digital sovereignty” and national security, and many others are more broadly concerned with advancing consumer protection and building confidence in the digital economy. In practice, recently the three objectives appeared to be more and more often mixed. The Covid-19 crisis has added an additional layer of uncertainty in this region which is at the same time extraordinarily dynamic, contrasted, and therefore very complex to apprehend.
2) How do you see Asia’s role in the global debate on data protection law and policy?
Dr. Girot: It is always difficult to generalize when speaking of “Asian developments” as we speak of European or US developments, because of the great contrasts which exist from one country to another, moreover in the largest region of the world. It is certain, on the other hand, that Asia in general, and certain countries in particular, will take an increasingly important place in the global privacy debate.
This evolution will happen because of a simple numerical factor. But also because the scope of privacy discussions has, for historical reasons, been defined essentially in “the West”, and many countries in the region now want to contextualize privacy developments and adapt pre-existing models to make them their own. The majority of jurisdictions in the region will find it difficult to subscribe to an approach focused on privacy as a fundamental human right, but an approach exclusively focused on trade and consumer protection will not suit them either. Cultural differences, but even more important differences in economic development will necessarily lead the countries of the region to weigh in on global developments.
3) How can FPF Asia help key stakeholders in the region with finding a balance between the utility of tech and data, on one hand, and the need to protect rights and interests of communities and individuals, on the other hand?
Dr. Girot: The creation of FPF Asia is incredibly timely. In a region crossed by different currents, and in a high voltage world, it can take the discrete but indispensable role of a transformer and “universal adapter.” The needs and expectations are immense, for there is today in the region no platform for cooperation that is at the same time informal, neutral, and endowed with both the expert background and the capacities necessary to build an inclusive regional dialogue on privacy and data protection.
My 4-year experience in a comparable position at the Asian Business Law Institute (ABLI) has taught me that cooperation can take many different forms, depending on the current priorities of regulators and countries. They may be information sessions and informal exchanges with regulators, convening different stakeholders to discuss cutting edge data protection issues, providing expertise in emerging technology in a way that is useful for policymakers, facilitating peer-to-peer exchanges for businesses active in the region, providing independent analyses and reports on key policy topics… Asia’s skies are the limit!
If you have any questions about engaging with The Future of Privacy Forum on Global Privacy and Digital Policymaking contact Dr. Gabriela Zanfir-Fortuna, Director for Global Privacy, at [email protected].
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