Why do we need regulation?

Published: 30 September 2022

This blog was written by our Commissioner, Emma Martins, and first appeared in Business Brief on 1 September 2022.

For jurisdictions such as the Channel Islands to remain competitive and attractive to discerning investors high standards of regulation are key. Bailiwick Data Protection Commissioner Emma Martins explains.

Regulation has come to mean a myriad of things. For many, it will prompt an eyeroll as they associate it with red-tape, bureaucracy and burdensome administration. Data protection is a regulatory framework that sets out the standards which apply to the handling of our personal data. It suffers a lot from the ‘eyeroll’!

I want to take a moment to reflect on what regulation actually is and how our views about it impact us individually and collectively.

Regulation is defined today as ‘a law, rule, or other order prescribed by authority, especially to regulate conduct’. As I often do, I want to look a bit further back and think about the origin of the word as this can give us some interesting and useful insights.

The word regulate is borrowed from the Latin regulatas, meaning ‘to direct, rule, keep straight’. In the absence of democracy, this feels rather authoritarian, with those in power exercising control over those without it. Perhaps that is where the ‘eyeroll’ emanates from!

But of course those of us fortunate enough to call the Channel Islands our home do live in a democracy which means that laws and regulations are put in place by those whom we have voted into power to represent us and our interests. Recent years have sadly seen an erosion in trust and confidence of elected representatives across the globe but we should never lose sight of how different our lives are to those living without the rights and freedoms we so often take for granted.

And, part of that democratic deal is that there is an agreement (called a social contract) between the citizens and the state that sets out how power from the individual is handed to the state in the knowledge that, in return, the state will put in place a framework of legal protections to ensure those rights and freedoms are upheld, including sanctions where they are not.

Some of those laws we feel a personal connection with (if someone steals your car, you will want something done about it), but some laws can feel distant and entirely unrelated to our everyday lives. Whilst that is understandable, it is also something we need to challenge.

There is a significant legal framework that sits around us all, whether that is the rules around driving cars or stealing them, setting up funds or handling personal data. Before rolling your eyes, take a moment to imagine a world with no rules about driving or stealing, no controls about who can do business in our Islands, no protection from the exploitation of our private information.

Because a law doesn’t affect us directly, does not mean it does not matter. In some ways, the less we feel directly affected, the more fortunate we are – our driving experiences are safe, our property is protected, we work hard to prevent organised crime from laundering monies through our Islands, and those charged with handling our personal information understand that they need to do so with care.

That is not to say that things will never go wrong – people speed, cars get stolen, money goes missing and data gets misused. But crucially, and very much a part of the social contract, there is redress, whether in the form of the police, financial services regulator, or data protection regulator. These organisations exist only to deliver on that contract. They are not somehow separate from us; they are part of us.

If only briefly, take a moment to appreciate (and even celebrate!) the fact that we live in a world and work in an environment with so many protections in place. Many millions of people in the world today are not so lucky.