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WIPO Director General Opens Virtual Symposium on Data Protection

April 22, 2020

Any comprehensive framework for data protection will depend on security, privacy and property, with the nature of data property rights still an open question for the future, WIPO Director General Francis Gurry said in welcoming remarks at a virtual symposium on data protection.

In a trend accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, greater amounts of economic, cultural and social activity are moving online in activity underpinned by data, Mr. Gurry said in opening the “Road to Bern Second Dialogue: On Data Protection,” co-hosted April 22-23 by WIPO and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

"We see political and social discourse taking place virtually much more frequently now…I don't think that we can proceed with confidence in these trends and directions, which are preexisting and which have been there for some time. ... unless we develop a comprehensive, coherent framework for data protection, part of an overall data governance framework," said Mr. Gurry.

The three "essential elements" to any framework are security, privacy and intellectual property, Mr. Gurry said.

"But what about the future and thinking in terms of property rights in relation to data? Generally, it's a terribly difficult problem and a terribly, terribly difficult question," Mr. Gurry said.

"It's a question of where you want to locate in the economic system the incentives with respect to these crucial resource data, which are an integral component of economic and cultural production and distribution, but also social and political discourse. ... Do you want to locate them with the origin of the data? The data subject? With the collector of the data? And so on," Mr. Gurry said. "So that is a question for the future, I think."

In preparation for 2020 UN World Data Forum that will take place in Bern in October 2020, and as a way to enhance the role of International Geneva in digital cooperation, the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations in Geneva, the Geneva Internet Platform and Geneva-based international organizations are hosting a series of ‘Road to Bern via Geneva’ dialogues on data.

The dialogues cover various aspects of the data lifecycle, from collection, sharing and use of data, in a manner that respects privacy. The cross-cutting dialogues - reflected by the cross-sectoral approach - will bring together the experiences of different sectors while enlarging the perspective on digital cooperation.

The second dialogue on data protection co-hosted by WIPO and ICRC is the first of the dialogues to be held virtually, after the World Meteorological Organization and World Health Organization hosted the first dialogue in February 2020.