Host In Ireland’s Garry Connolly: GDPR is coming at the perfect time

20 Sep 2017

Garry Connolly, founder of Host In Ireland. Image: iMiller PR spoke to Garry Connolly about GDPR and thinking beyond the data centre.

Garry Connolly is the founder of Host In Ireland, a global initiative to increase awareness of the benefits of hosting digital assets in Ireland. He is also co-chair of the GDPR Awareness Coalition.

In conversation ahead of his appearance at Datacloud Ireland – a conference bringing together power-supply companies, investment agencies, international enterprises and local providers – Connolly discussed GDPR, the importance of holding organisations accountable and exactly why Ireland is so attractive for digital assets storage.

Looking beyond the data centre

In terms of the recent furore around the Athenry Apple data centre story, Connolly is of the belief that there needs to be a more balanced view of the data climate here in Ireland.

“Over the last number of weeks, a lot of the discussions have revolved around the lack of movement rather than the proactive movement of data coming to Ireland.”

For Connolly, Ireland’s data story is a lot more than just a tale of Ireland v Apple. There are plenty of stories about Ireland as the perfect location for data centres, but he believes it goes much further than that. As he puts it, we should consider the data centre much like a field of corn in the Irish countryside – it’s just one element of a larger digital ecosystem, much like the field is just one piece of Ireland’s agricultural puzzle.

Connolly argued that “fundamentally, for Ireland, [data is] the same as any other foreign direct investment”, and that more should be done to court international companies that may have offices here, but no digital assets.

He points to the so-called ‘Data Center Alley’ in Loudoun County, Virginia – the world’s largest concentration of data centres – as a prime example of how this is best accomplished.

More than 70pc of the world’s internet traffic passes through nearly 10m sq ft of data centres in operation and, although this dwarfs Ireland considerably, we could do with taking a leaf out of their book. “People still like to legislate in the jurisdiction where their data is resting.”

Humanising the task at hand

Another area of concern for Connolly is, of course, GDPR, and the effects these impending regulations will have both here and abroad. He views it positively, as a frame of reference for the murky world of data protection that previously just wasn’t there.

‘We don’t want policy to hold back innovation but we need to have something to say we are doing our best to protect citizens’

“Now GDPR is saying to the individual citizen, ‘You have a place to go to gain clarity about your own information’, and it’s being ranked in many circles at the same level as fresh water or clean air. It really is a fundamental human right to be able to own your own identity.”

Connolly explains that GDPR is coming at a crucial time due to increasing automation and less human interaction with private data on the cards for the future. “For companies, I think it’s the right thing to do at the right time. Right now, most of data has some form of human interaction, but over the next 12, 24, 36 months, human-moderated interaction will be in the minority.

“We are getting to the stage where, if we don’t have a specific term of reference for privacy by design now, we will have allowed the hooligans take over the football stadium come 2022. GPDR’s looked upon as a cumbersome autocratic policy but we must look at it as human beings that want to protect their children and grandchildren.”

He mentioned the recent Equifax data breach as an example of what we need to avoid in terms of private data breaches going forward, with GDPR going a long way to help this mission.

“Presently, there’s no real term of reference. It’s best endeavours, and that’s just not good enough anymore. Not when you’re dealing with information that can destroy lives. That’s at the core of it.”

Data protection is nothing new

Worth keeping in mind is that plenty of people have been working on data protection for decades now. Connolly noted: “It’s not as if data protection has just dropped out of the sky, there’s always been rules and regulations but there are penalties.”

He says that in a more connected world, maintaining global reputation is likely to be the key worry for companies when it comes to GDPR compliance. “We can get more information about a company’s protocols now, where it would have been a five-year investigation by the FBI 15 years ago.”

Protection and transparency are key. “We don’t want policy to hold back innovation but we need to have something to say we are doing our best to protect citizens.”

Garry Connolly is one of the speakers at Datacloud Ireland, which takes place on 21 September in The Convention Centre, Dublin.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects