GDPR, the much-discussed General Data Privacy Regulation from the European Union, will not be a cure-all for the world’s data privacy problems simply because the GDPR, like every law, is subject to the bureaucracy out of which it was born. This bureaucracy can be compared to a super tanker and those who would violate the law to speedboats. While the super tanker takes miles to make a simple course adjustment, speed boats can dance around the super tank with little fear of a collision.
Sure, there will be times when a speedboat captain makes a mistake and collides with the super tanker resulting in the organization being penalized, but my current expectation is that the organizations that will ultimately pay the potential fine of 4 percent of global turnover will be few and far between. I say this because the GDPR, for all its good intentions, was created by humans, and lawyers will quickly find the loopholes, unintentionally created by the humans, to keep their customers from paying significant fines. Moreover, I simply do not believe that many of the organizations charged with enforcing the GDPR currently have the required manpower and skills to successfully enforce the law. Add to this the fact that Working Party 29 continues to provide guidance on what different sections of the law mean and, at least in the short term, we have a construct that may be difficult to enforce.
That said, I think the GDPR could have a very positive effect on the events we have recently seen involving Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the political decisions they are claimed to have influenced. GDPR clearly lays out individual’s rights and a primary focus of data privacy and information security professionals should be training colleagues, family, and friends about those rights under this law and the threats that attempt to undermine their rights. The key to success is education, for it is only education that can fix stupid. We, the world, must add critical thinking to educational programs at all levels. An educated population, with solid critical thinking skills, will significantly improve our ability to reduce the effectiveness of fake news and to take back our democracies from the forces that would use our data and opinions against us.
Despite these observations, don’t despair. GDPR is a well-intended regulation that has the potential to change the way the world views data privacy. This value will be derived, however, through education rather than through fines. We must all understand that we do not have to accept our employers, governments or, perhaps worst of all, non-governmental organizations that attempt to sway public opinion on crucial political decisions, misusing our data. We have options. We can inform ourselves using multiple accredited sources. We must demand that our rights are respected. We should confront those who spread fake news, both in the internet but also at our own dinner table. Most importantly, we can vote, with a few mouse clicks, and can close our accounts on those social media platforms which exploit our data for their gain. We must all understand that data privacy is a universal right and thinking critically about what those with access to our data will do with it is the ultimate safeguard for our data, our privacy and ultimately for our democracies.
Author’s note: The author’s views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of his employer.