Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 3 July 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus: Tech ambassador calls for increased government and private sector collaboration

Casper Klynge discusses the shared responsibilities of big tech companies and governments in conversation with Emirati diplomat Omar Ghobash

Casper Klynge is vice president of Microsoft’s Office of European Government Affairs to the United Nations. Victor Besa / The National
Casper Klynge is vice president of Microsoft’s Office of European Government Affairs to the United Nations. Victor Besa / The National

Tech companies could welcome stronger government regulation as the coronavirus outbreak accelerates digitalisation, tech ambassador Casper Klynge said on Thursday.

The former Danish ambassador was speaking with a senior Emirati diplomat at 'The Future of Diplomacy' series, which investigates foreign policy in a world transformed by the pandemic.

Viewers from 23 countries joined the online discussion to hear Mr Klynge, a specialist on relations between state and big tech, and Omar Ghobash, the Assistant Minister of Public and Cultural Diplomacy.

Mr Klynge, vice president of Microsoft’s Office of European Government Affairs in Brussels, Belgium, examined the balance in responsibility between big technology companies and government.

In his address, Mr Klynge argued greater understanding and collaboration for effective government policies and regulation.

“It will never be up to the industry to set rules and regulations or policies,” he said. “That will continue to be the role of democratically elected officials or government officials.”

He noted that there is a new generation of chief executives who take daily decisions on data ethics but boundaries should always be set by national governments.

To that end, Mr Klynge said governments must sit with tech company officials regularly to understand the implications of new technologies. Smaller countries like the UAE can leverage together to do this.

“You know, life is difficult when you develop new technologies, including technologies that that are incredibly influential over you and me and our fellow citizens, and the best way of making sure we have a level playing field is for governments to create the right framework around that,” he said.

He suggested Microsoft would welcome regulation in areas like facial recognition “to make sure our engineers are navigating in the right way”.

“We welcome that,” he said. “We think it’s helpful that the guard rails are being defined by governments and decision makers.”

He noted that facial recognition technology can be both hugely beneficial in healthcare but its potential for misuse in surveillance should make it a priority area for government regulation.

“This is an area where we as a company have said very clearly from the beginning, we will welcome regulations,” said Mr Klynge. “We should not leave it in the hands of the tech industry to define how that technology’s brought out. Better have regulation coming out from responsible, progressive, democratic countries than leaving it alone to the tech industry.”

He highlighted that citizens, governments and civil society should demand companies behave responsibly, even if it means technologies are not fully utilised immediately.

“What that means in practice is perhaps to take a firmer approach to these technologies, despite the fact that you’re not using the full potential of technologies from the outset,” he said.

He stated that companies are coming to appreciate they must have a greater understanding of local customs and cultures and government objectives before rolling out new technology.

Mr Klynge added that Europe must catch up to a world that is increasingly bi-polar with the US and China as the main developers of technology.

Covid-19 has presented an opportunity for technology companies and governments to sit down and talk about regulation.

“Could you imagine handling the pandemic without 21st century technology?” said Mr Klynge.

“Even more people would have been in a difficult situation of losing their jobs, their income. That said, we want to make sure that that dependency will not be translated into what has been called tech-lash, the concerns that we will be too dependent on big American companies that are not playing by the democratic rule book.

“I think we have to work together to get that right and pay attention to concerns that are being expressed by citizens, by civil society and by governments.”

The Future of Diplomacy series is hosted by the Office of Public and Cultural Diplomacy in the UAE. The upcoming speaker will be announced next week.

Updated: May 29, 2020 03:15 PM

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