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European Data Protection Supervisor Giovanni Buttarelli has died. He was 62.

Buttarelli, who has been a leading figure in European data protection, was appointed to his role as EDPS Dec. 4, 2014, after previously serving as assistant supervisor from 2009 and as secretary general for Italy's data protection authority, the Garante, from 1997 to 2009. 

News of his passing was announced by his office early Wednesday morning. "It is with the deepest regret that we announce the loss of Giovanni Buttarelli, the European Data Protection Supervisor," the EDPS stated. "Giovanni passed away surrounded by his family in Italy, last night, 20 [Aug.] 2019." 

Buttarelli was appointed as EDPS during a transformational time for data protection in the European Union, with the advent and implementation of the EU General Data Protection Regulation. He was a prolific writer and speaker on data protection and ethical issues and co-hosted the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners 2018, "Debating Ethics: Dignity and Respect in Data Driven Life."

Buttarelli served as assistant supervisor to the EDPS under Peter Hustinx from 2009 to 2014.

In comments provided to the IAPP, Hustinx, who served as EDPS from 2004 until 2014, said of Buttarelli, "I am deeply saddened by the loss of a close colleague and friend, who has done an outstanding job as EDPS, serving with great vision, courage and dedication, and who will be missed greatly by many, not only in the final months of his mandate, but for many years to come." 

Irish Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon also shared her thoughts with the IAPP on her "friend and colleague": 

format_quoteData protection regulation can be a constant uphill battle, but Giovanni Buttarelli injected inspiration, a common sense of purpose and sometimes even fun(!) into the role we have shared as members of the Article 29 Working Party and European Data Protection Board for almost the last five years. During that time, we spent many hours in the Borschette plenary meeting room in Brussels, and Giovanni and his EDPS team were always positioned directly opposite and facing the Irish DPC from the far side of the room. Whenever discussions got heated and started to go off track, a wink and a smile over to us from Giovanni would always tell us that all was not yet lost.

Because Giovanni believed in the possible.

Tearing around cities with Giovanni to share a panel platform with him at three consecutive events each at a different venue were exhilarating illustrations of his generosity and can-do attitude. He never dropped the ball. He was an intellectual driving force at the EDPB and someone with an incomparable work rate. His vision was to inspire regulated entities to truly place data protection at the centre of their business practices and to honour the fundamental rights of individuals. We will miss him enormously. Our deepest condolences to Giovanni’s wife and children and all of his friends and colleagues, especially at the EDPS. May he rest in peace.

Rocco Panetta, CIPP/E, who serves on the IAPP's board of directors and worked with Buttarelli at the Garante, said: 

format_quoteAlmost everyone may share thoughtful words about Giovanni Buttarelli, as we are talking about a giant of privacy and data protection ... But few people in the world have had the privilege of knowing Giovanni as me. And I was really blessed and lucky. 

We worked together at the Italian DPA ... for more than eight years ... My room was in the middle between the room of Stefano Rodotà, the chairman of the Garante, one of the fathers of the EU privacy, and his room. 

Giovanni was a very formal kind of person. He changed a lot in years and thanks to his international role he become more amicable and informal. He was an Italian judge before appointed as secretary general of the authority and this role conditioned his behavior for years. He was a wise and intelligent jurist, as well as a good person with plenty of humanism and empathy.

We shared the passion for food and wine, and we always discussed the best restaurants we sampled around the world. 

He was rigorous, and I loved his attitude to understand at first sight ... the quality of any person in front of him. 

The world will miss a privacy champion and good man. I am losing my former boss and a great friend.

Covington & Burling Partner Henriette "Jetty" Tielemans, who was selected by the European Commission to join a five-member expert group on privacy, said Buttarelli "was a kind man and a great professional. His smile and wealth of experience will be sorely missed." 

Hogan Lovells Partner Eduardo Ustaran, CIPP/E, said, "Giovanni was a true leader in every respect: a visionary, an innovator and a doer at the same time, but most importantly a genuinely kind person. He leaves a legacy that we all should reflect upon and contribute to expand." 

Julie Brill, Microsoft’s corporate vice president, deputy general counsel, and chief privacy officer and former FTC commissioner, said he "was a shining light in the data protection community. He pushed the boundaries of data protection, asking us to think about its ethical dimensions as well as legal requirements. In the process, he pushed the data protection and privacy community as well, making us all a bit better.

"In the decade I have known him, I have always been awed not only by his great intelligence, but also by his warmth and generosity. Whether on or off the podium, Giovanni always had a twinkle in his eye as he dazzled with his brilliance. He will be sorely missed." 

The Future of Privacy Forum's Gabriela Zanfir-Fortuna worked at the EDPS from 2014-2016: 

format_quoteGiovanni Buttarelli used to tell us when he took up the role of [supervisor] that his vision for the EDPS was to be a beacon of data protection and privacy, to show the way of how personal data should be fairly used and protected in the new digital world and to lead by example. It turns out that Giovanni himself became that beacon.

It is difficult to quantify his legacy in data protection and privacy. He played a role in shaping the field by being one of the drafters of the first Italian Data Protection Code. Giovanni was an European par excellence, and he took on the task of leading the EDPS, influencing and shaping European policy at a crucial time, that of negotiating and adopting the GDPR. He was also a key figure in trans-Atlantic privacy. Not only that he was involved in different roles with both the adoption of the EU-U.S. Safe Harbor and subsequently the Privacy Shield, but he was always keen on ensuring that these two worlds of privacy communicate earnestly and openly with each other. He was a true ambassador.

Giovanni was a man with a vision. If today we are discussing ... the ethics of personal data processing in AI, machine learning, big data, this is because Giovanni placed ethics as the cornerstone of his first mandate as Supervisor. ... His efforts culminated with the extraordinary international conference on “Debating Ethics” ... If we are seeing competition law, data protection law and consumer protection law being more and more intertwined in real governance, this is also because some years ago Giovanni saw how the three fields will shape human society ... and pushed for setting up the Digital Clearinghouse, ensuring the relevant authorities talk to and learn from each other.

But above all, Giovanni was a kind leader and a mentor to many of us. His passion and energy inspired generations of “European Data Protection geeks,” as he fondly called us. He will be dearly missed.

Giovanni Buttarelli was born in Frascati, Italy, June 24, 1957, a small town near Rome. He studied at La Sapienza University in Rome and eventually became a judge at the Tribunal of Avezzano in 1989. From 1989 to 1997, Buttarelli was an advisor in the Legislation Department of the Italian Ministry of Justice and was an author of Italian privacy law n. 675/96 on the processing of personal data. 

He was also appointed as a member in various working groups and committees in the Council of Europe, including the Convention 108 Consultative Committee. 

Starting in 1997, Buttarelli served as secretary general at the Garante, Italy's data protection authority. He then served as EDPS assistant supervisor from 2009 to 2014, before his appointment as EDPS in 2014. 

During the public session of the ICDPPC event in Brussels last October, Buttarelli spoke about privacy as a fundamental universal value and the need to put dignity back into the digital space. 

EDPS Giovanni Buttarelli speaking last October 2018 at the ICDPPC event in Brussels, Belgium.

In May 2019, Buttarelli was presented with the IAPP's 2019 Privacy Leadership Award, and last year, Buttarelli also wrote a Privacy Perspectives post reflecting on the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield two years on. 

Covington & Burling's Jetty Tielemans shared a short anecdote that took place during the 2016 terrorist attacks in Brussels: "Giovanni was in our office speaking at an IAPP KnowledgeNet meeting when the Brussels airport and a central metro line were bombed by terrorists. The metro station is less than 500 meters away from our office. Alarming messages started coming in, sirens on the street, worried faces in the room. Giovanni continued his lecture, undisturbed. Only for the question time, he excused himself and said that his office was desperately trying to locate him. Would we mind skipping the question time? Duty first, always first." 

2 Comments

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  • comment Teresa Schoch • Aug 21, 2019
    A reminder that we are in a profession with noble and ethical aspirations so well represented by this leader. RIP.
  • comment Simona Davies- Buttarelli • Aug 23, 2019
    Amazing man,  kind, loving,  evolutionary social policy change maker,  amazing uncle and human being.  Sadly missed