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A Commissioner abroad Part 2 - Marrakech John Edwards
8 November 2016

Maroc Marrakech Saadiens Luc Viatour 9

The International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners has been meeting each year since 1979. It has evolved into a reasonably structured format, governed by a five-member Executive Committee consisting of the current year’s host, the previous year’s host, and three elected members.

Since 2014, New Zealand has chaired the Executive Committee, which also consists of Morocco, France, Hong Kong and Canada.

In October this year, members from 110 data protection and privacy authorities gathered in Marrakech for our 38th meeting.

As has become standard, the conference was separated into two parts; a one-and- a-half-day Closed Session for accredited members and observers, and an Open Session attended by industry, civil society and academia, as well as data protection and privacy commissioners, government and inter-governmental representatives.

The idea of a Closed Session is to allow data protection and privacy commissioners to hear about and discuss contemporary issues, as well as attend to conference business in an environment of peers.

As Chair, it was my job to open and close the conference, and to prepare the conference communique.

As you can see from those documents, we heard state of the art addresses about robotics and artificial intelligence, and the challenges and opportunities presented by encryption. The conference also passed a number of resolutions including:

  • Resolution for the adoption of an international competency framework on privacy education
  • Resolution on developing new metrics of data protection regulation
  • Resolution on human rights defenders
  • Resolution on international enforcement cooperation

The Closed Session also agreed to begin a discussion about the future size and strategic direction of the conference. This was in response to some concerns that with so many new authorities joining (we welcomed five more this year), the conference might become unwieldy and unfocused. As Chair, I expressed support for an inclusive and expanded conference, and urged members to participate in the discussion that is soon to begin, and which will conclude, at our 39th gathering in Hong Kong next year.

The “future direction” conversation elided nicely into the agenda presented by our Moroccan hosts for the Open Session, whose themes included Privacy and Personal Data Protection as a Driver for Sustainable Development - an apt topic for our first conference in a North African, Arab nation.

As more African and Asian nations develop their own responses to the borderless nature of the data economy, our conference will need to accommodate a greater variety of legal and cultural traditions.

And long may it be so, as the diversity takes us out of our comfort zones, and exposes us to new ideas and experiences, such as a conference dinner in a tent under the stars in the desert - a scene which could have been lifted from The Arabian Nights and which left all delegates with an indelible memory of a very special occasion.

You can read the first installment of this three-part series by Privacy Commissioner John Edwards here.

Image credit: Marocco Marrakech - Saadiens tombs. Photo by Luc Viatour via WikiCommons.







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