Opening with keynote speeches from EU and US policymakers highlighting shared principles in tech regulation, RAID 2023 saw experts in AI regulation, data privacy, competition law and digital banking engage in crucial discussions on the sector’s key issues. The wide-ranging conference addressed critical regulatory fault lines brought about by rapid innovation.
A key priority raised by industry stakeholders throughout the conference was the need for unfragmented policy on regulating emerging technology. This was raised in relation to complications that could arise from potentially divergent AI regulatory approaches. It was also highlighted that aspects of AI regulation could fall under the purview of multiple government departments on a national level, leading to uncertainty for businesses.
A multi-pronged approach
Opening the conference Vera Jourová, Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of Values and Transparency discussed the challenge of regulating rapidly evolving technology ensuring the protection of fundamental rights whilst encouraging innovation. Jourová stated “As regulators, we will always be behind the curve of innovation. Like Sisyphus, regulators are condemned to roll the ball up the hill and as soon as they have arrived a new challenge sends it racing down again. Our approach to digital regulation is therefore principles-based… no matter how fast technologies evolve, they must always serve a human purpose and leave no-one behind.”
In her keynote speech Elizabeth Kelly, Special Assistant to the President at the White House National Economic Council, addressed the question of how governments can work together to seize the opportunities and mitigate risks of emerging technologies. Kelly stated, “Our experience teaches us that managing AI’s far-reaching risks and opportunities require a multi-pronged approach with overlapping layers of governance, technical safeguards and protocols, shared principles, domestic regulation and legislation, and global standards developed through close collaboration with allies and partners.”
RAID’s opening panel centred around the question ‘Can we regulate technology before it regulates us?’ Former Primer Minister of France Jean-Pierre Raffarin discussed approaches to regulating AI and emerging technologies stating “We need an international network, not only with regulators but also with civil society because this is a political question, not just a technical question… We have to work together to improve the protection of citizens around digital technology.”
Building on the discussion of international cooperation, Dragoş Tudorache MEP “We have to make an effort for convergence on both sides in the EU and the US… …we are going to have two different approaches, but if we remain aligned politically at the level of values and principles and then work together on standards, then we are good.”
On the same panel, Microsoft’s Chief Privacy Officer and former FTC Commissioner Julie Brill discussed some of the key practical considerations in regulating AI technology. Discussing different regulatory approaches that could be taken to different elements of the tech stack, Brill stated “We think that those (foundational) models should be licensed by a central agency because of how critical they will be to the safety of our infrastructure going forward.”
Discussing consumer protection and fairness in a later panel, Deloitte Internet Regulation Partner Joanna Conway discussed the challenges of the different regulatory considerations in user protection. “You get tensions between freedom of expression and content moderation, you get tensions between privacy and keeping people safe,” she said. “There are those balances and trade-offs which need to be made… …What the complicated landscape means is that there can often be multiple bases on which enforcement or redress can be based… …the complexity of the landscape transcends through everything and touches every stakeholder.”
In the same panel, Kasper Drążewski, Senior Legal Officer at BEUC discussed the ethics of data processing in personalising online content. Drążewski stated “What is important to remember is that what I see online is not what my neighbour sees… …the first point to mention with digital fairness is what our researchers describe as ‘the false promises of personalisation’ because as you know personalisation is everywhere. It is like a pair of invisible goggles that are impossible to take off… …this is the time to take regulatory action and civil society should definitely be part of it.”
The third-panel discussion covered the international transfer of data. Discussing the EU’s approach Anna Buchta, Head of the Policy & Consultation Unit at the European Data Protection Supervisor, stated “From the EU’s perspective, for a very long time it has been about values. Rather than focussing on specific jurisdictions or location of data, we would put emphasis on the fact that protection has to travel with the data and that the processing has to happen in accordance with our values.”
Global privacy landscape
Discussing global developments in international data transfers Katherine Harman-Stokes, Acting Director of the US Office of Privacy and Civil Liberties, stated “In terms of the global privacy landscape and significant developments, from what I am seeing data protection and privacy safeguards are being advanced now in multiple forums, both bilateral and multilateral, all reflecting a shared commitment to privacy, democracy and the rule of law… …there is a shared commitment to get the experts on a particular issue together with the data protection authorities to identify commonalities in values and principles that are the same between different jurisdictions.”
On a panel exploring the impact of AI and its regulation on society and industry, Juha Heikkilä, Adviser for Artificial Intelligence in the European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology, stated “Overall we have this belief that AI can be a very useful and valuable technology that can help us solve many societal challenges that we face today but it carries risks… …(AI’s specificities) lead to risks to safety, to fundamental rights, they cause legal uncertainty and they can lead to fragmentation… We decided to take a risk-based approach, regulating where AI causes high risk or unacceptable risk and intervening there but only there.”
In a panel on regulatory readiness for future tech, co-director of IBM’s Policy Lab Jean-Marc Leclerc discussed the importance of a risk-based and technologically neutral in the drafting of the AI Act, discussing this in the context of the term ‘precision regulation’ coined by IBM to describe regulation that is targeted and problem-based.
Amaryllis Verhoeven, Head of Unit, Digital Transformation of Industry in DG Grow of the European Commission delineated between different purposes for regulation. “When we are talking about the AI Act, DSA and the DMA we are regulating risk, we are regulating behaviour and we are regulating market power in the case of the DMA. This is the same for all product safety rules we are adopting. This is risk regulation but a lot of regulation is not about that. It is about creating opportunities.” She also described the imperative on the EU to regulate stating “If we regulate at a European level we set the standard for one of the biggest markets in the world and we know our standards have a global effect. The alternative is very often fragmentation.”
Professor Joachim Wuermeling, executive board member of the Bundesbank, discussed arguments in favour of a European digital currency. “From my point of view there is a very clear case for a central bank digital currency because the digital Euro offers the potential for a much better payment system in the European Union and also offers the potential to provide a real boost for the digitalisation of the entire economy,” he said. “A digital currency provides functionalities which are not yet available through traditional payments such as smart contracts and machine-to-machine payments with this representing a big area for possible innovation.”
In a panel focussed on competition, Alberto Bacchiega, the Director of the Digital Platforms DG in the European Commission stated “Competition is not only important in the digital sector but it is vital. Free market economies are prone to some market failures, and lack of competition is one of those. This is perhaps the case in the digital sector more than in other sectors of the economy because of the characteristics of the digital sector. The digital sector is characterised by important network effects, huge economies of scale and the very central role of data… …competition is necessary for innovation.”
The final panel covered approaches to data protection in a fast-moving world. In response to a question on the continued suitability of GDPR Wojciech Wiewiórowski, the European Data Protection Supervisor, said “I think it is a success story and a good tool for telling us the principles. It was done in the right moment and now we can build on it.” Discussing the suitability of DPAs as AI regulators Wiewiórowski said “It depends on the situation in the member states… Whilst we know in Spain there will be a special agency dealing with AI, in Italy Garante is going to be the regulator – so the answers might be different (depending on the member state).”
Avalanche of tech regulation
The conference concluded with a keynote speech on tech policy from Belgium’s Secretary of State for Digitisation, Mathieu Michel. “In Europe in recent years we have been confronted with an avalanche of tech regulation. I do not say this with a pejorative connotation. On the contrary in Europe, we are proving that we are able to take a leading role in setting international standards. We do that based on our own unique approach based on values of trust, transparency and accountability.
“I started my mandate in the Belgian government by declaring that the digital transformation of our society can only fully succeed if there is trust in the digital services and tools that governments implement and that businesses put on the market” also adding “I am convinced that digital technology will be a major contributor to the challenges that we are facing globally.” Michel concluded that tech governance and a commercially stimulating environment would be critical to realising this potential.