New research programme aims to streamline trustworthy data usage

2 Nov 2021

Prof Markus Helfert. Image: Uta Schubert

The Empower programme will focus on data governance and bring together several Science Foundation Ireland research centres.

A new research programme focusing on future-proofing EU data flows and driving innovation in data protection has launched in Ireland today (2 November).

The programme, named Empower, will develop systems to protect citizens’ data while streamlining the way it is used in a transparent way.

Speaking at the launch, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris, TD, said the programme is an important strategic research project for Ireland.

“One of this Government’s core ambitions is to build competitive advantage and to foster enterprise development through a world-class research and innovation system,” he said.

“Empower clearly demonstrates that when we combine talent and investment, we here in Ireland can undertake cutting-edge, impactful research.”

The programme represents multidisciplinary research of almost €10m in data governance and ecosystems, and will involve Science Foundation Ireland research centres Lero, FutureNeuro, Insight and Adapt.

Academic researchers from these centres will work together with a number of companies including Meta, Siemens, Huawei, Truata and Genesys to develop innovations in data governance that will have the potential to benefit individuals and companies.

The programme will be led by Empower director Prof Markus Helfert, who is based in Maynooth University.

Helfert said the research programme will explore how to design and implement intelligent systems that leverage shared data within data ecosystems while defining and safeguarding the rights of data sharers.

“While an effective data ecosystem can empower the exchange of knowledge from organisations and individuals, data movement can also give rise to risks that need to be managed from a socioethical perspective,” he said.

“It is crucial that organisations offer individuals transparency and accountability of their user data to ensure they are truly empowered by data flows in new systems such as smart homes and smart cities.

“Solutions need to respect the rights and freedoms of users while turning personal data into an asset for the population and society.”

‘An international game changer’

The Empower research programme aims to lead the way in trustworthy data governance in order to take advantage of opportunities provided by advances in data management.

Prof Vincent Wade, director of the Adapt research centre for AI-driven digital content technology, said: “We live in a world where people are anxious about how their data is used and rightly concerned that it is not misused, yet wish to benefit from a digitally enhanced living and working world.

“Empower is an international game changer, a flagship research and industry innovation programme that develops techniques and technology for protecting your data and crucial information.”

Concerns around data usage and privacy have been circling for years, particularly since the introduction of the GDPR in the EU. However, data remains a valuable asset for research and can bring about many societal benefits, provided the right data governance is in place.

Prof David Henshall, director of the FutureNeuro centre for chronic and rare neurological disease, said the Empower programme is a national forum to drive the safe and ethical use of health data.

“The launch of Empower is an important milestone to facilitate collaborative, transparent and citizen-centric opportunities that will support continuous improvement in health diagnostics, therapeutics and models of care for the benefit of society.”

Last year saw the introduction of the Covid-19 data research hub which was used to conduct statistical analysis on healthcare data. Earlier this year, the hub became accessible for registered researchers for health research purposes.

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Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic