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Joined-up international privacy problem solving Blair Stewart
24 June 2016

OECD Ministerial edit

The OECD has just completed an important set of meetings. At its heart was the ministerial meeting on the digital economy which had as its theme innovation, growth and social prosperity. Preceding the main meeting was series of stakeholder forums.

The OECD meeting, which concluded today in Cancun, Mexico, was a positive example of what I'll call joined-up problem solving that may offer lessons for privacy policy making in other international forums and at domestic level.

International organisations by definition link together governments from different countries. But government officials alone don't have all the answers. Nor does any one type of expert - lawyer, policy adviser or industrialist - have all the relevant insights to tackle an area as complex and nuanced as privacy.

The OECD doesn't just assemble public officials - it also formally brings together four groups of stakeholders to contribute to the policy debate: business, trade unions, civil society and the technical community. These go by the acronyms BIAC, CSISAC, ITAC and TUAC.

The meetings examined a huge range of issues. In particular they sought to break down the silos in public policy thinking about digital economy issues in privacy, security, consumer protection, the workplace, technologies and business.

Brief examples (and many more could be given) of the usefulness of thinking in this cross cutting way can be glimpsed in observations from two of the more than 100 experts that addressed the meetings.

John Evans of TUAC observed that privacy issues of today are emerging in the workplaces of tomorrow giving the example of blacklisting that is generated by algorithms without any human actually considering the individual concerned.

Professor Urs Gasser of Harvard spoke of the importance of national privacy strategies (recommended by the OECD in 2013) and explained how the experience gained in developing national strategies in cyber-security could inform that work.

New Zealand's Minister of Communications, Amy Adams, spoke as part of a ministerial panel on improving networks and services through convergence. She observed the internet had evolved without much interference from government and "as governments we must sometimes go against our nature and resist the urge to regulate".

The Privacy Commissioner John Edwards also spoke at a panel on managing digital security and privacy risks. You can view his speech notes here.

There will be a number of substantive action points coming out of the ministerial. But almost as important is the good example set by the OECD in approaching the issues - summed up in the current international jargon - with multi-stakeholder engagement.

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