Tech Policy Trends 2019: Did We Get Them Right?

Posted on 10th December 2019

VerdictTrends

Our Tech Policy Trends report, published at the beginning of 2019, explored contemporary trends in technology policy through a series of articles. Twelve months on, we reflect on those trends, review the accuracy of our predictions and examine what has happened since.

EU Digital Policy Up in the Air

Our expectation of a big push to close outstanding files before the May European Parliament elections was largely correct. The Copyright Directive passed the approval procedures in Parliament and Council only days before MEPs entered the campaigning season. However, files such as e-Evidence and ePrivacy were delayed, with Germany preparing to steer the latter in the second half of 2020 as part of its Council Presidency.

“Digital” is permeating the new European Commission. Four or more new Commissioners (responsible for the Digital Age, Internal Market, Justice, and Values and Transparency) will draft the new Digital Services Act. Additionally, industry is focusing on Parliament engagement in Brussels by identifying MEP policy interests and meeting with digital champions. Technology companies, especially those facing growing EU protectionism, need to improve their engagement with policy-makers to demonstrate how they are tackling challenges such as data privacy, e-commerce and liability.

Prediction accuracy: 4/5

Digital Tax in the EU Gets Real  

We correctly predicted EU wide fragmentation on digital tax in 2019 after the EU failed to find a solution on the issue. This has led to the introduction of digital taxes and proposals in France, the UK, Italy and the Czech Republic, although governments have actively tried to avoid double taxation.

The OECD’s work on digital taxation continues and technology companies are supporting these proposals as they are considered preferable to individual country initiatives. Meanwhile, the European Commission has reiterated its commitment to act on an EU-level proposal if the OECD process is not concluded by the end of 2020.

Digital taxation has also become geo-political, with Donald Trump threatening to impose tariffs on French produce in response to the introduction of France’s digital tax, which some in the US view as an attack on American firms. In line with the ongoing trade tensions between the US and the EU, this issue could become even more politicised in 2020.

Prediction accuracy: 5/5

Finding the Right Regulation for Online Platforms

We also correctly identified online platform regulation as a key trend for 2019. Several European initiatives on this topic have sprung up. For example, the UK’s online harms white paper, France’s Loi Avia, and Germany’s proposals to strengthen the Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) are all significant attempts to resolve this issue. In Brussels, discussions around the Terrorist Content Regulation and child abuse imagery in the ePrivacy Regulation took place. Next year, too, the European Commission is set to work on the Digital Services Act and is due to replace the eCommerce Directive.

We were optimistic in our assessment of the UK’s ability to implement some of its policies as it has been preoccupied with Brexit. London has backed down on imposing age verification measures, conceding there were too many technical difficulties. This serves as a reminder of the challenges legislators face when trying to regulate technology and is an example of why more industry engagement is required to educate policy-makers. Additionally, a late start for the new European Commission means discussions are not as advanced as we would have anticipated at the start of the year.

Prediction accuracy: 4/5

GDPR Goes Global

2019 saw the continued spread of privacy rules based on the GDPR model; Brazil and Bahrain have implemented GDPR-influenced frameworks and Panama and Kenya recently adopted new GDPR-style personal data protection laws. Additionally, several markets with existing personal data protection laws – Switzerland, New Zealand, and Argentina – have started to update and align them with GDPR standards, with the aim of maintaining and renewing their EU adequacy arrangements.

However, this has been less hurried than we expected. The two major cases we mentioned last year, India and the US, are still undetermined. While their discussions bear similarities to the GDPR, their legislation will likely be different. For example, India added data localisation requirements, though these may not end up in the final legislation. In the US, Congress continues the long and tedious process of agreeing on a comprehensive privacy legislation.

We can expect the global enthusiasm for GDPR-style privacy regulation to decrease in the coming year as policy-makers face implementation challenges and become more concerned with topics like the global race for AI and personal data protection regimes that support its development more than the heavy-handed and consent-centric European model.

Prediction accuracy: 4/5

Cyber Policy in the Global Arena

There were a few unexpected surprises in the cyber policy arena. We flagged the spread of cybersecurity laws in Asia as a trend, citing Vietnam’s problematic cyber law (implemented 2019) and the infringement of global norms in cyberspace. We should have looked past expert groups at the UN, and instead focused our attention on cybersecurity language in trade deals (USMCA, US-Japan), regional bodies (ASEAN, EU), and local norm-setting.

While we identified that the infringement of cyber norms forces global business into political crosshairs, we did not mention Huawei. The controversial Chinese telecommunications equipment maker has rebranded the cybersecurity debate – particularly the 5G cybersecurity debate – into one on supply chain, geography, and Great Power competition. To that end, we should have anticipated further action from the Trump Administration, who acted in 2019 via two executive orders – one on the cybersecurity workforce and the other on supply chain security.

Prediction accuracy: 3/5

Smart Cities in Asia Get Smarter

2019 saw governments reviewing their data governance policies to achieve smart city goals. For example, Singapore’s Personal Data Protection Commission developed guidelines on the use of anonymised data to encourage innovation. Several governments also launched Open Data initiatives to spur the creation of smart city applications among businesses. In addition, municipal governments are taking the lead in driving smart cities initiatives. The Osaka government worked with the private sector on smart city demonstration trials using information and communication technology (ICT) and the Internet of Things (IoT). Lastly, Singapore created a Smart City Index which looked at several indicators that cover health and safety, mobility, activities, opportunities, and governance. In 2020, we expect ASEAN member states to continue leading through the ASEAN smart cities network, with Vietnam set to drive green smart cities initiatives as ASEAN host next year.

Prediction accuracy: 5/5

Digital Identity: A New Incentive for Better Management

In 2019, the rollout of several digital identity and biometric verification schemes continued. Of importance was the uptake in utilisation of facial recognition systems alongside blockchain systems in building and upgrading national digital identity programmes. In 2019, Bermuda, Catalonia, Sierra Leone and Thailand announced blockchain based digital ID systems and Germany announced a pilot project using blockchain in digital citizen records.

Facial recognition, on the other hand, has been met with public disapproval. In India, the civil society group Internet Freedom Foundation has expressed disapproval of the government’s plan to extend facial recognition systems beyond the voluntary biometric identity scheme Aadhaar, which uses iris scans to authenticate identity. France’s mandatory facial recognition system Alicem puts it in direct conflict with an individual’s right of consent as outlined in the GDPR. It has been designed in such a way that facial recognition is the only way for residents to create a legal digital ID.

In October, more than 60 civil society organisations, technologists, and experts from around the world came together to release an open letter entitled “Why ID: Protecting Our Identity in the Digital Age”. It calls on international development agencies and funders, the UN, and national governments to evaluate the human rights implications of digital identity programmes. This points to the decreasing  trust in digital identity systems.

Prediction accuracy: 4/5

The Thriving AI Ecosystem

After the popularity of AI-powered technology in 2018, we predicted that the AI ecosystem would develop even further in 2019. Many countries implemented AI policies, with Kenya, Jordan, Spain, Russia, Estonia, Lithuania and others initiating the drafting of local AI strategies. In Latin America, Uruguay launched a public consultation on AI for Digital Government, while Brazil announced the creation of eight AI laboratories in the country and announced plans for a national AI policy. In the US, President Trump formally launched the “American AI Initiative,” marking the administration’s first move to ensure the US remains a global leader in this technology. There were also efforts to enhance the ethical development and application of AI technology integrated in the European Union’s Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI.

Investment soared across industry, with Google, Microsoft, and Facebook putting significant sums of money into AI study. However, international harmonisation across AI approaches are still missing. 2020 may be the year this occurs.

Prediction accuracy: 4/5

Intelligent Healthcare

In January, we predicted that while AI in the healthcare industry has been mainly used to free up time and reduce hospital visits, 2019 would see AI used increasingly for predictive analysis. We were correct in our assessment that the year saw several innovations in AI technology powering early detection and diagnosis of illness. A notable innovation is a DeepMind technology that is able to predict acute kidney injury up to 48 hours before the condition is traditionally diagnosed, giving doctors an edge to begin early treatment. Technologies like this will have an enormous impact on the early treatment of conditions and will save lives.

We continue to see new AI services that automate administrative tasks and power virtual nursing assistants. Launched in March, an ongoing research program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre uses AWS machine learning services to improve efficiencies in hospital, in turn saving time, money, and improving patient care. As we look to 2020, innovations will continue as AI in healthcare start-ups received over USD 1 billion in investment over the past year. There are still endless possibilities for how AI can revolutionise the healthcare industry. For these to be realised, governments need to maintain focus on building accessible data to power AI technology, which remains an obstacle to AI development in the industry.

Prediction accuracy: 4/5

WTO Reform Gathers Steam

In late 2018, we predicted that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) would renegotiate key topics such as dispute resolution, developing country status, subsidies, and SOEs. However, this has not occurred. As of late 2019, the organisation remains as vulnerable as ever.

The US has been preoccupied with the trade war with China, meaning no attention has been given to WTO issues. No consensus has been reached regarding controversial WTO issues related to China either, including rules on market economy status, treatment of developing countries, and transparency of subsidies.

China has, however, been active in recalibrating their approach to the organisation. In June, China withdrew their challenge to EU anti-dumping duties regarding its market economy status. In doing this, they may be seeking to progress on less controversial principles and build allies rather than provoke other countries. While there is gradual bilateral progress between the US and China, there is a good chance their relationship will breakdown further rather than be resolved.

Prediction accuracy: 1/5

Stay Tuned!

We can expect the continuation of some of these themes in 2020, along with new developments. Watch this space for our Tech Policy Trends 2020 series, to be released in January!

Back to document archive