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Opening remarks from Elizabeth Denham CBE, GPA Chair and UK Information Commissioner, on Tuesday 13 October at the GPA Closed Session 2020 – At your desk.

Hello, and welcome to the 42nd Global Privacy Assembly closed session.

It’s my privilege as chair to welcome you today, to what promises to be an exciting and engaging three days.

Our conference has come together annually for more than forty years. From Strasbourg to Sydney, from Marrakesh to Montreal, we’ve come together to share our expertise, our vision and our friendship.

And in 2020, in this strangest of years, we are holding our conference again.

And that’s so important.

Firstly, it means we can further the modernisation of our Assembly advanced in Tirana last year. This Assembly belongs to all of us. Today we will review the progress on our strategic plan and policy strategy, and discuss our plans for the coming year. Your voices and views are crucial.

Secondly, this conference allows us to collaborate. Tomorrow we will consider the impact COVID-19 has brought, and reflect on the pragmatic and considered response we have so far brought to the challenges of the pandemic.

And finally, this conference gives us an opportunity to speak as a community. On Thursday, we will consider the resolutions that set out where we stand, as a group and as a profession, on key issues. And we will elect those we wish to represent our community as members of our Executive Committee.

Continued modernisation. Collaboration. Community.

I look back on 2020 and I think ‘it would have been easy to push this Assembly’s work to one side’.

I don’t know about you but the phones in my office are ringing off the hook to respond to COVID-19. We were being asked to respond straight away and give our thoughts on contact tracing apps, immunity certificates and temperature testing.

It would have been easy to prioritise our domestic work, and postpone our GPA commitments for a year.

But that didn’t happen.

In fact, our Assembly has been busier than ever.

It feels like the GPA has really come to life over the past year, and is supporting members more than ever before.

What I am most proud of as chair is that we were ready for the challenge 2020 brought.

We have worked hard over the past few years: modernising the assembly, setting our strategic direction, and building our capacity.

And so we could respond to the challenges the pandemic brought.

I spoke last year about my ambition for an Assembly that can support one another year round.

The COVID-19 taskforce has shown we are that Assembly.

I want to thank Commissioner Chung, our colleague from Hong Kong for her team’s role in pulling together the Compendium of Best Practices,.

And I want to particularly highlight Raymond Liboro who took on the taskforce when he was so busy domestically. Thank you Raymund.

I want to talk about how we’ve engaged with those outside of our group.

I spoke last year about my ambition for an Assembly whose doors are open: open to new members, open to new ideas.

Our work with others this year showed me we are now that Assembly.

The GPA fails if it only engages members rather than influential organisations like governments, international bodies and those who represent business and consumers.

We brought big tech – Google and Apple – into our discussions on privacy design of their API.

And we worked alongside OECD on our COVID workshops. These events showed how we can work with others to influence the debate and guide governments, civil society, regulators and policymakers on key issues.

Thank you to everyone who helped organise the workshops, including the secretariat, my ICO colleague Steve Wood – who also has his OECD role, and Joe Cannataci, UN Special Rapporteur on Privacy, for his very thought provoking keynote.

It is clear that we meet at a time the likes of which none of us have experienced.

We have seen extraordinary times.

We’ve gone beyond a short-term crisis.

Data protection commissioners are being asked questions today that would have been unthinkable a year ago. About significant data collection. About a shifted relationship between state and citizen. About compromises on privacy that would have been previously unthinkable.

And none of this is going away.

The decisions our community makes now, shape the future.

And that includes the decisions we make to continue the evolution of our Assembly.

It is important that we continue to modernise.

It is important we continue to find ways to collaborate, so our collective wisdom can help us take better action individually.

And we must remember that our community has never been more important.

Continued modernisation. Collaboration. Community.

We move now to the business of the week.

I’m sure, like many of you, there’s a slight sense of sadness here.

We achieved so much last year in Tirana, but also wasn’t it fun? I’m going to miss the conversations in the coffee breaks and the opportunity to catch up with old friends. I’ll miss the hospitality of our hosts, and the fantastic awards ceremony. I’ll even miss the traditional dancing I enjoyed at the gala dinner, although I appreciate others might be grateful to not have to witness that again!

Such conferences will come again. I am really excited about 2021 in Mexico City, hosted by Francisco Javier Acuna Llamas and his fabulous team –  you will hear more about Mexico on Thursday.

But this year we are online, and bringing together more than a hundred member and observer authorities.

It’s incredible to think that this year, of all years, we have as many people in the virtual room today as we had in the conference room last year. That’s a similar number who came to Tirana last year.

You may be sitting at your kitchen table, in your child’s bedroom or at the office.

Wherever you are, you are welcome. Please get involved, intervene, ask questions. We really want to hear what you’ve got to say – we are a global Assembly, and all the better for the wealth of different voices we hear.

I would like to thank our interpreters and our colleagues who helped make this conference a multilingual event through the translation of the conference documents: gracias to our friends at INAI Mexico, and merci to our friends at the AFAPDP.

I have to mention the time difference. The nature of a global event is that there isn’t a time that suits all. And so I’m very grateful to my friends who are giving up their evening to join us. And I’m very grateful to my friends, where it is early morning, and where I hope there is plenty of strong coffee.

On that note, our sessions this week are shorter than usual, in line with the constraints we face with this type of digital event. With that in mind, I must insist everyone keeps to time on their allocated slots. My colleagues in the secretariat will be watching the clock closely, and making sure we keep to our published agenda.

And so to the agenda.

The agenda is structured into three days, with a key focus each day to ensure we make real progress.

Day one: we’ll hear a report back on the strategy we agreed in Tirana. And we’ll ensure our future plans are still clear.

Day two we’ll cover the biggest challenge we all face: COVID-19, and consider how to continue supporting one another.

And then day three is a day of decision making, including voting on resolutions to ensure we have a formally agree direction.