Even though the votes have been cast and the decision made, UK business leaders are still coming to terms with what Brexit really means for their organisations. Leading up to the vote, the core focus of the Brexit debate was the impact on UK businesses and Britain's future as a technology hub within Europe. At the same time, many tech professionals were also concerned by the prescriptive nature of European legislation, which has had the power to restrict or even damage the day-to-day operation of their businesses.
For many within the technology space, this discussion was driven by a general distrust of EU legislation, with a particular focus on data privacy and the ability of tech companies to keep their customers' information safe. Within the EU this legislation had the potential to impact innovation, weaken customer trust and ultimately damage UK businesses' bottom lines.
Faced with such legislation, and a string of EU snooping scandals, many technology professionals had started to lose faith in the EU long before the Brexit vote was announced. For those firms that managed large amounts of corporate and customer data, the prospect of an independent Britain offered the potential for a higher quality of data privacy legislation – away from EU snooping and mandatory data “backdoors”. Now that the vote has been cast, many in the technology industry have started to feel a sting of uncertainty, wondering if the likes of Theresa May (creator of the Snooper's charter) will do a better job of protecting their privacy than the EU.
In my opinion, both sides of the in-out debate present their own privacy risks for UK businesses, consumers and data storage providers.
On the one hand, staying within the EU would have left businesses open to a whole host of government snooping laws, placing companies at risk of upsetting their customers or even opening themselves up to potential data theft and similar cyber-crimes.
On the other, leaving the EU does not necessarily guarantee a fix to these issues – if anything it might have made them worse. Just because Britain will no longer be heavily influenced by EU snooping or lax data privacy laws, it does not necessarily mean that it won't develop its own archaic alternatives. From the Snoopers' Charter, to former premier David Cameron's ludicrous call for a “ban on encryption”, poor data privacy is as much a problem for British politics as it is an issue for the EU.
However, despite no longer being part of the EU, UK businesses should come to terms with the likelihood of them facing a heavily EU-influenced data protection landscape for the foreseeable future. If the UK wishes to continue trading within the EU, they will almost certainly have to adhere to some comparable data protection and cyber-security laws – including the EU's long-feared General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
According to Chiara Rustici, an independent EU privacy analyst, “The GDPR is going to affect UK businesses offering any type of service to the EU market, regardless of whether the UK stays in the EU or not.”
Despite this, many in the data hosting community remain optimistic for the UK's future as a secure technology hub. In the run up to the referendum, many of those in the “Brexit” camp turned to Switzerland as their go-to analogy for what could happen now that Britain has been left to go at it alone. As they see it, Brexit could represent an opportunity to rebrand the UK as an independent hub for data privacy, sitting alongside Switzerland as a world-leader in sensitive information storage.
As the owner of a Swiss data centre, I find this highly unlikely. While the decision to leave Europe would ensure a higher quality of data privacy legislation - outside of EU snooping and “backdoors” – I do not believe that UK politicians will support such an approach. From ill thought-out ISP guidelines through to heavy-handed counter-terrorism laws, successive British governments have shown a completely lax attitude toward data protection and individual privacy rights.
This is where I believe the popular Swiss analogy falls down.
Switzerland has always prided itself on offering a neutral space - strict on data privacy, yet free from overly intrusive government intervention. The UK on the other hand offers a very different approach, one that is unlikely to change whether in – or out – of the European Union.
Although the nation has now voted, Brexit will never offer businesses, nor individual consumers the improvements in data privacy they demand. Instead, this referendum has seen them faced with a much more straightforward choice – be snooped on by bureaucrats in Brussels, or, be snooped on by politicians in London.
Contributed by Mateo Meier, data privacy expert and CEO, Artmotion