The OECD Committee on Digital Economy Policy (CDEP) and one of its working parties held virtual meetings April 21-23 against the uncertain global backdrop caused by the COVID-19 virus. USCIB Vice President for ICT Policy Barbara Wanner participated.
By necessity, the normally week-long meetings were streamlined, focusing on only a few items pertaining to data governance and privacy as well as pursuing “alignment and agreement” on the 2021-22 CDEP Program of Work and Budget. These meetings were preceded by webinars on April 15 and April 17, which focused on (1) “Data Governance and Privacy Challenges in the Fight Against COVID-19” and (2) data portability, respectively.
“Not surprisingly, discussions in the data portability webinar and CDEP meetings repeatedly circled back to the appropriate use of digital technologies and data to address COVID mitigation and recovery,” said Wanner.
According to Wanner, CDEP’s consideration of the 2021-2022 Program of Work and Budget featured numerous government interventions noting the importance of addressing COVID-mitigation in the near term, but urging the CDEP to view the COVID-19 crisis through a wider lens in the medium term and consider how technologies and data may be galvanized to address future global crises.
“The CDEP’s focus should be on [the role of data and digital technologies in] crisis management, in general, since the next global crisis may not be health-related,” the European Commission representative urged; the U.S. Government concurred.
Under the auspices of Business at OECD (BIAC), USCIB members stepped up in both workshops and in the CDEP meetings to provide expert commentary that detailed how they are endeavoring to develop privacy-respecting COVID solutions. In BIAC’s PWB intervention, BIAC CDEP Co-Chair Makoto Yokozawa echoed the theme of government interventions, encouraging OECD current and future work-streams to consider lessons learned from the pandemic about the use of data and digital technologies.
One example was USCIB members’ Apple and Google application programming interfaces to make it possible to trace COVID transmission. Importantly, the venture addresses many of the issues identified by the data regulators as necessary to build public trust and safeguard privacy protections. For more information on this joint venture, please click here.
USCIB member Microsoft’s Carolyn Nguyen intervened on behalf of BIAC. Addressing the topic at a higher level, she cautioned the OECD to avoid policy siloing in developing COVID-19 policy recommendations, urging a holistic, cross-committee/cross-sectional approach as was used for the Going Digital project. Nguyen further underscored the importance of public-private partnership and voluntary and responsible data sharing in enabling rapid response. She also suggested that the OECD’s review of the 2013 Privacy Guidelines review and the Enhanced Access and Sharing of Data (EASD) initiative should take the Covid-19 experience into consideration before going forward.
“It’s clear that technology can and must play a part in creating the environment in which we can safely and carefully begin to return to work and re-open businesses. It also is clear that any solution needs to be approved by elected officials, designed with strong privacy protections in mind, include clear and transparent communications with citizens, and only be used to address public health needs,” said Nguyen.
Nguyen further noted Microsoft’s efforts to build privacy compliance into its tools and services has made it easier for the organizations that it supports to focus their efforts on advancing their missions of combating the pandemic. For example, she noted that Microsoft’s Healthcare Bot is being used to build COVID-19 self-assessment tools by organizations around the world, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.