Europe’s strategy for responsible AI and data will also boost digital transformation

By on 07/06/2021
Getting the right framework in place: recent law changes in Europe will support digital transformation. Credit: Jonathan J Castellon/Unsplash

Europe’s new legal framework for AI and data will help governments overcome the challenges associated with digitising services. With this in place, alongside advances in technology and a coordinated effort to promote digital skills, the pace of change will accelerate

Europe is moving decisively towards enabling the responsible digitisation of governments. At its core, Europe’s strategy focuses on introducing a competitive legal framework around the access, sharing, storage and governance of data.

Governments in Europe, as in other parts of the world, have been striving but struggling to become truly digital, despite the well-acknowledged benefits and efficiencies. The pace of the digital transformation of services offered to citizens may have somewhat accelerated through necessity because of the pandemic. But it is the governments’ own digitisation in terms of administration and decision-making that still needs to materialise in earnest. A new legislative framework for AI and data in Europe may help governments to finally achieve this long-standing, elusive goal.

On 21st April 2021, Europe proposed the first ever legal framework for artificial intelligence (AI) which made headlines around the world. The AI Act will affect governments in three ways: as regulated users of AI, as the enforcers of the new framework and as the key enablers for innovation and uptake of AI.

Government use of data and AI

Government use of AI is the focus of many provisions in this law. For example, “social scoring” by public authorities is prohibited. Regulated high-risk use cases include, for instance, AI systems intended to be used for access to public services and benefits, specified law enforcement purposes as well as border control management. The proposed AI law also requires governments to establish AI regulatory sandboxes and to organise awareness raising activities for small-scale developers and users.

These requirements, as well as the new AI governance framework which foresees the establishment of national and European-level supervisory authorities, underline the need for government officials to have digital skills and gain technology-related professional experience. Public authorities need to be able to, on the one hand, understand and leverage the opportunities provided by AI, data analytics and digital technologies today and, on the other hand, manage the related risks that ubiquitous technologies can pose to citizens’ safety and rights.

The proposed AI Act is one of the core elements of Europe’s broader digital and data strategies. These also include a Data Governance Act proposed in late 2020 and a much-awaited Data Act that will be proposed by the end of 2021. These acts will provide a legal framework that should help remove barriers to data sharing and offer clarity around data access. Legal uncertainty around data access and data sharing has contributed to governments’ reluctance to break data silos and adopt more agile data strategies to enable data-driven policies.

Europe’s ongoing cloud strategy is one more piece of the policy puzzle that is designed to support the change in how governments use and manage data. This includes cloud infrastructure and services specifically for government use. It also supports the creation of data pools, foresees mechanisms for collaboration with industry and includes clarifications on the applicable policy and legal framework to promote certainty and trust.

Enabling digital transformation

The deep digital transformation of governments has been delayed or impaired because of difficulties in changing long-standing cultures and attitudes, fear, perceptions or true lack of a clear legal framework and reliable guidance around how to collect and share data within and across government, with citizens, with industry and researchers. As a result, many government organisations have struggled to establish a vision and overarching strategies around data management and data governance.

The new EU regulatory framework on AI and data sharing now requires governments to design and implement holistic data strategies. The first steps around data collection and data protection policies will have been made in the past few years based on privacy compliance needs required by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Going forward, governments will be required to take further steps to ensure data quality and data accuracy across their current data silos. They will need to implement data governance policies that will support auditable AI model management towards the policy imperative of responsible, transparent and fair use of AI by public authorities.

The profound digitisation that the majority of governments have found a challenge over the past two decades, will now be required but also supported by the new legal framework for AI and data. This framework combined with today’s AI and data analytics technology capabilities as well as with a coordinated effort to promote digital skills for public authorities and citizens, can help accelerate the digitisation of government services, administration and decisions in a more holistic, responsible and sustainable manner.

Kalliopi Spyridaki is chief privacy strategist at SAS, the leader in data analytics. She joined SAS in 2007. In her role today, Kalliopi focuses on public policy and privacy compliance in Europe and Asia Pacific.

Kalliopi works with regulators and policymakers to help shape laws and government policies related to data and AI that impact SAS and its customers. She also assists with SAS’s privacy compliance programme aiming to ensure that SAS remains in the forefront of global privacy requirements.

She feels the most intriguing part of her work is striving to bridge the gaps between the making of a law, its implementation and the rapid pace of technology evolution with its transformative power for business and our society.

Before joining SAS, Kalliopi worked as a legal adviser and public policy expert at various firms and organisations focusing on data protection law, competition law and consumer law. Kalliopi is a member of the Athens Bar Association. She holds a law degree from the University of Athens, Greece and a master’s degree from the University of Tübingen, Germany. She has held various industry leadership positions, currently serving as vice-chair of the Privacy & Security committee and issue lead on AI at DIGITALEUROPE, the leading trade association representing digital industries in Europe. Kalliopi speaks four languages. She is based in Brussels, Belgium.

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