WASHINGTON, Nov. 3 (Reuters) – U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai on Wednesday said protecting consumer rights and privacy must be a top priority in digital trade policy, and that tech companies have the responsibility to shape the economy.
“It is no exaggeration to say that these companies have the power to affect the lives of people and the direction of the development of our civilization,” Tai said in remarks at a virtual forum on digital trade law. organized by Georgetown University and the Information Technology Industries Council. .
“This power requires responsibility and accountability. And these stakeholders have responsibilities in shaping the digital economy,” she added.
Tai said the issue of data privacy is complex as these standards are set by national policy makers in each country.
“I think one of the most important principles (…) is that we need to respect where national policymakers have set their standards, and then look at how international connections will meet those national standards when the data cross borders, ”Tai says.
Digital and other trade policies should help meet the development needs of emerging economies, she said, and policymakers should continually challenge long-held assumptions, including that unrestricted data flows are always better.
A number of developing economies such as India are implementing requirements for cloud service data to be hosted locally as a tool to help develop a local digital economy.
Tai said all aspects of the problem should be looked at, including whether data flow restrictions increase cybersecurity risk or prevent entrepreneurs from accessing more powerful IT resources elsewhere.
“I really believe that we need to think more about whether the restrictions on data flow would really serve the intended purpose of facilitating more development,” she said. “At the same time, we should ask ourselves if, you know, no data flow restriction serves the purpose as well.
Tai also said that Western democracies all express concern over China’s use of surveillance technology for censorship and “digital authoritarianism” that may affect people in other countries.
“We have to ask ourselves tough questions; for example, does digital trade facilitate imports that are made with forced labor or that exacerbate the problems of illegal trade in illegally caught flora and fauna? She added.
Reporting by David Lawder; edited by Jonathan Oatis
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