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We will never forget 2020. Factors like Brexit and COVID-19 accelerated the shift to online technology, redefining how we work, socialise and interact with each other.

COVID-19 and related public health measures necessitated the growth of e-signing platforms, allowing business to continue to sign deals remotely and safely. Artificial intelligence and machine learning made headlines and governments and policymakers are still grappling with how to encourage innovation while protecting users. We followed with interest the rise of electronic ‘smart contracts’ as they moved closer to being recognised as valid agreements under Irish law.

In 2021 we expect to see businesses monitor the implications the pandemic has on their GDPR obligations and the increased regulation of content on digital platforms. We also anticipate that new regulations will see the EU’s Digital Single Market taking a step closer to becoming a reality.

Three important developments in 2020

1. E-Signatures and E-Signing Platforms

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a seismic shift to remote working and physical distancing for the majority of the world’s workforce. This made conventional handwritten signatures difficult to obtain. While e-signatures were used on occasion before the pandemic, platforms like Docusign exploded in use during 2020.

We looked at the common pitfalls and practical issues that businesses need to factor into their e-signing process.

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2. The Regulation of Artificial Intelligence

The development of artificial intelligence (AI) continued to gather pace in 2020. AI technologies and products are disrupting many sectors. Governments and regulators are grappling with how to encourage innovation while protecting users.

We considered some of the key proposals from the EU Commission’s draft white paper on AI and what to expect in the coming months.

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3. Smart Contracts

Smart contracts are contracts written fully or partially in computer code, the coded element being capable of being performed without human intervention. They have the potential to be an efficient and secure replacement for traditional legal documents as they can streamline the contracting process and remove the need for a middleman to draft and execute.

We examined whether Irish law is ready to recognise smart contracts and cases in other countries that may affect the validity of smart contracts in Ireland.

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Two familiar themes in 2021

1. GDPR and COVID-19

There have been unprecedented challenges faced by organisations during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the pandemic continues into 2021, businesses need to continue to be aware of their related obligations under GDPR. In particular, how data protection law interacts with the provision of healthcare and the management of public health issues, and an organisation’s ability to respond to data subject requests in a timely manner.

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2. Content on Online Platforms

2021 will see changes to copyright legislation and the liability of content providers, which will affect technology companies in particular. Online platform providers need to be aware of the new laws as by the middle of the year they will have to implement upload filters to assess if content infringes copyright before it is published on their platform.

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One key takeaway for the coming year

EU Digital Single Market

Due to the rapid evolution of technology, the current EU rules for digital services are showing their age and are fragmented. The disjointed approach creates exposure for consumers and businesses and is a roadblock to the EU’s vision of achieving a true single market for the digital sector. The DSM will facilitate greater connectivity, investment and innovation for consumers and businesses in the EU through a cohesive, harmonised regulatory framework for digital services.

We expect to learn more about the proposed Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act packages announced in late 2020 that will apply across the EU. The shared goal of the proposed new laws is to create a safer and more open digital space. We are also scheduled to see the new Digital Content Directive and Sale of Goods Directive begin to apply at the start of next year and so businesses need to start preparing for these new laws now.

As digital goods and services become an integral part of both our home and work lives the collective DSM regulations will affect us all. Organisations operating in the technology sector will need to monitor the developments closely over the coming 12 months.

For more information on successfully navigating related issues for your business in 2021, contact a member of our Technology team.

The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.

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