One of the most debated topics at the moment in the tech industry and beyond, is the protection of personal data, in light of the vast technological developments. As a response to the rapidly-evolving digital environment and its associated risks, the European General Data Protection Regulation will enter into force in May 2018. This new EU regulation, designed to harmonize data privacy laws across Europe and to set a new standard for consumer rights, is not without posing challenges to many organizations across Europe striving to implement the appropriate level of compliance in their data management processes.
To learn more about the implications of the GDPR and about the legal issues arising in the wake of new technologies, WIL had the pleasure to interview one of its Founding Board Members, Béatrice Delmas-Linel, who has recently contributed (inter alia with Thaima Samman, WIL President) to a publication meant to inform businesses regarding tools and methodology to reach compliance with the GDPR.
Béatrice is the Managing Partner of the Paris Office of the international legal practice Osborne Clarke. In 2012, she was recognised as one of the leading IT lawyers in France by her peers and distinguished as Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite, notably for her contribution to the digital economy. Béatrice is also Coordinator of a Master programme in IP and Digital Law at the HEAD – Hautes Études Appliquées du Droit in Paris.
Technology tends to scare a lot of lawyers – obviously not you. What led you to gravitate, as a lawyer, towards Digital Technology?
It was a combination of opportunity and personal inclination. In the early nineties, I happened to work for a law firm which was representing clients such as Apple and Microsoft. When the internet economy developed, I was intrigued by the debate at the time, especially on whether the internet was a ‘no-law-zone’ or not, what it meant for society and existing laws. I saw an exciting challenge in finding answers on how law could apply to the new technologies.
Now 27 years later, technology is everywhere and its far more complex than back then, but I still see a challenge into bringing innovation back to the basic principles of law. The same reaction happens with each new technology and I am always eager to decrypt and understand the technology so as to be in a position to analyse how our existing laws do apply but also where any gap is that may require additional legislation. For instance GDPR reflects how personal data has become key in today's economy and requires enhanced protection. Artificial intelligence is becoming a key element of new technologies but raise core questions with respect to the ownership and protection of algorithms as well as liability and ethics.
You have recently co-authored a publication to inform businesses regarding the compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which aims to bring the laws regarding personal data protection in line with the realities of the Digital Age. Can you tell us more about it?
This is a white paper, sponsored by three trade organizations (CIGREF, AFAI and TechinFrance), that is trying to inform businesses regarding the compliance with the GDPR and aims at helping businesses to be compliant with the new Regulation.
As a lawyer, I believe that it is better to explain the opportunities this Regulation brings to our clients’ businesses, rather than letting companies being motivated only by the gola of avoiding the applicable fine for non-compliance. By implementing the required tools of the Regulation, clients will invest into the healthy long term management of data of their employees and customers, having in mind that data are today one of the most valuable assets for companies. The Regulation is a way for them to take control of their data, to show accountability and as such, to create trust among their employees and customers. I believe that the more digital economy is expanding, the more trust is becoming a valuable competitive differentiator in business.
What potential does blockchain technology have from your point of view?
Blockchain is a fascinating technology, because it can remove the need for transaction intermediaries, like banks. In addition, we can see many potential applications of blockchain that go way beyond just payments or cryptocurrencies. In fact, blockchain could revolutionize how we interact with intellectual property, capital markets, insurance, etc.
However, the question becomes whether this technology will provide a sufficient level of trust, so that it could have the potential to eliminate such intermediaries.
“From an environmental standpoint, the more we become dependent on any kind of digital network, we should ask ourselves how will we able to sustain the vast amount of energy that is required for new technologies.”
Now, blockchain may bring a new world to our society the way Internet did, but this type of technology requires huge amounts of energy across the world and as we become more and more dependent on such networks , we should ask ourselves how will we able to sustain the vast amount of energy that is required for new technologies.
Could you explain briefly the difference between smart contracts as used in blockchain industry and traditional legal contracts? What are the possible legal issues of doing business with them? Will they enable to cut out the middleman and if so, do lawyers need to worry?
Simply stated, the difference between smart contracts and traditional legal contracts is automation. Smart contracts are a form of automated contracts that use pre-defined rules to facilitate the exchange of nearly any good or service. In fact, we already use smart contracts in our daily lives. For example, when you want to park your car, you go to the parking meter, you insert money and you receive a parking ticket that gives you specific rights to use that parking space. You do not negotiate nor draft a contract.
This is an example of a very basic form of smart contract, but the systems based on artificial intelligence and blockchain will now provide us with extremely customized offers. Smart contracts will evolve and will be able to process more complex transactions.
“Smart contracts mean lawyers will need to be smarter.”
The need for lawyers will not disappear, but they will need to adapt. Rather than a threat, it should be seen as an opportunity for lawyers to show their added value. Smart contracts mean lawyers will need to be smarter.
As a technology lawyer, I have responsibility towards younger generation of lawyers to make them understand that what matters isn’t often what is written in the civil code but rather what is the role of law in society and how to question the existing law. If I look at a contract, I ask myself, why do certain parties want a contract, what is their interest? What is the issue at hand? I tell younger lawyers to ask their client more questions to better understand their needs and therefore to create terms that are truly adapted.
You are a founding Board Member of WIL and initiator of WIL’s partnership with Osborne Clarke France. What prompted you to take an active part in this cause and could you share some of the best practices in your group with regard to promoting gender parity and woman leadership?
The mission statement of WIL is very appealing to me – it is the opportunity to network outside your usual horizons – across countries, sectors and professions. As an entrepreneur and senior-level women I also feel that it is important to be active with leadership programme such as WIL’s Women Talent Pool programme so as to share my experience and give advice.
At Osborne Clarke in Paris, we give special attention to diversity, gender diversity in particular as we think that parity is healthy: three out of our five founding partners and two senior partners are women!
We also wish to encourage the next generation of women to not fear leadership and entrepreneurship, and within Osborne Clarke International we have launched various initiatives to ensure that female voices are being heard.
“I never felt that being a women could be a handicap but neither an advantage. I felt different and I always believed that difference is an opportunity."
Which advice would you give to women ?
I never felt that being a women could be a handicap but neither an advantage. I felt different and I always believed that difference is an opportunity.
However, women must work on making that difference more visible, in a positive and effective way. In my opinion, women often take it for granted that someone is going to acknowledge what they have worked on, which in reality is not the case. Therefore, my advice to women is always to make sure they spare at least ten percent of their professional time in order to give more visibility to their work. Doing a good job is not enough, one has to make sure it gets noticed. In French we call that "savoir faire et faire savoir", which can be translated by "know how, and make it known"!