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Irish Prime Minister: Challenge of GDPR is to balance regulation with innovation

The European Union’s incoming General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, should not be feared as it will help boost Ireland’s digital community, the country’s prime minister has said. Finding the right balance between regulation and innovation is key.

Leo Varadkar, the Taoiseach, or head of the Irish government, told some 400-plus delegates during a keynote at the Temenos Group AG Community Forum (TCF) 2018 in Dublin that the new rules and laws, designed to strengthen privacy protections for EU citizens, will present significant changes, including some challenges.

SNL ImageIrish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar speaking in Dublin
Source: S&P Global Market Intelligence

Rather, the GDPR — along with Ireland’s Data Protection Bill — will "foster trust that will help [Ireland] realize the enormous potential of digital technologies," Varadkar said May 23.

The EU privacy measures, which will go into effect May 25, affects how companies of all sizes collect, store and maintain users' personal data.

One of the main challenges for both tech firms and the Irish government is finding the right balance between red tape and stimulating tech investment and innovation.

"Our approach to data protection should balance appropriate regulation with the need to stimulate innovation," Varadkar said.

The new regulatory regime prompted responses from tech bigwigs, including Facebook Inc.'s Mark Zuckerberg, regarding the social media giant’s commitment to user privacy.

Zuckerberg said he expects Facebook to be fully compliant with the rules by the time the law is set, according to a May 22 European Parliament members' meeting that he attended.

Facebook, which has its European headquarters in Dublin, announced in December 2017 that it will no longer book non-U.S. revenues through its Dublin unit starting Jan 1, 2018.

Even so, attracted by the low corporate tax and English-speaking workforce, Google Inc. and Twitter Inc. hold sizable operations in what is often known as Ireland’s version of Silicon Valley: Silicon Docks.

Varadkar called Ireland’s focus on education and talent key factors behind Dublin’s rapidly evolving technology space where companies have largely specialized in artificial intelligence, cloud computing, robotics and analytics.

"For over 35 years, Ireland has invested in educating and attracting software engineers supporting innovation … and as a result we have a vibrant startup community," he told the delegates.

The Irish prime minister said the country, along with the government, needs to continue to forge ahead as a technology hub in Europe by fostering innovation. To that end, the country’s central bank plans to launch an innovation lab later this year to ensure that it keeps pace with the evolving fintech and regulatory landscape, he added.

Ireland’s Data Protection Bill was passed May 22 and included a controversial provision that raises the digital age of consent from the government’s preferred choice of 13 years to 16 years, according to The Irish Times.