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The Privacy Advisor | International DPAs' conference to address intersection of ethics and data protection Related reading: The role of DPAs in incentivizing accountability

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Though it's been an annual event for the last 40 years, this meeting of the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners arrives at a pivotal time in data protection and privacy around the world; not only because the General Data Protection Regulation has transformed the privacy and data protection landscape in the EU and beyond but also given the proliferation of similar laws and appointment of data protection authorities and officers worldwide. 

The conference, hosted by the European Data Protection Supervisor and Bulgaria's data protection commissioner, will take place Oct. 22-26 in Brussels, Belgium, and Sofia, Bulgaria, concurrently, and will focus on "Debating ethics: dignity and respect in data-driven life." Olivier Rossignol, head of information and communication at the EDPS, said EDPS Giovanni Buttarelli wanted to differentiate this year's conference from those past, choosing a topic that would "go beyond data protection and privacy." He added Buttarelli aims to advance the global discussion on ethics, a focus important to the supervisor's agenda for the last three years or so. 

Additionally, unique to this year, at the Brussels event, the European Parliament will host attendees. It's the first time an EU institution has housed the conference.

"The discussion will take place in the hemicycle of the European Parliament, which has the advantage of giving each participants her or his own microphone and live interpretation into English, French and Spanish," said Buttarelli in a blog post. "It will not be your typical data protection conference."

Rossignol added it's expected the venue will foster additional participation and interaction among the 250 privacy and data protection authorities and regulators from 80 countries around the world. The first two days are closed sessions and will focus discussion around artificial intelligence, the GDPR and international cooperation and enforcement. Generally, working groups are established among regulators, reports to the plenary made and then votes held to adopt resolutions aiming to influence government and policymakers. 

Specifically, Buttarelli wants DPAs to answer the following questions: What are the benefits of big data? Is technology still serving humankind? Do we need ethics in digital worlds? Should ethical considerations drive innovation? 

"There are a lot of open questions, and the aim is to have some clear-cut answers by the end," Rossignol said. 

Resolutions taken at the end of last year's conference focused on automated and connected cars, collaboration between data protection authorities and consumer protection in the digital economy. 

Rossignol said Buttarelli refers to the annual conference as the "Olympic games of data protection and privacy" given the roster of regulatory authorities who attend, which "opens the discussion for how you better cooperate at an international level." 

Slated to keynote this year is Tim Berners-Lee; the former chief justice of India; the president of the European Court of Human Rights; the president of the European Parliament; the European commissioners for competition, the digital society and justice; and the president of the American Philosophical Association's Eastern Division. 

Asked whether resolutions (typically three to five are adopted per conference) might be drafted around controversial topics such as the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, Rossignol said, "What [Buttarelli] wants, the stamp he gives to the conference is that it's an international conference, so it shouldn't be Europe speaking on EU v. U.S. or the Privacy Shield, it should be something that goes beyond the EU and U.S. He really wants people from Asia and Africa to take part in the discussion and to increase this cooperation worldwide. He's really insisting on that because ethics goes beyond legal aspects, and it's something that might be different to different parts of the world and also to different cultures and different countries." 

Rossignol said the conference continues to grow each year. "I think that's the right approach. The more authorities and regulators are represented, the more chance that the cooperation will increase. It's expanding," he said. 

Following the two days of closed sessions are two days of open sessions, comprising academics, civil society, privacy advocates and government representatives. 

The IAPP will host a cocktail party on Tuesday, Oct. 23, themed "An Evening in Brussels," at the Magritte Museum. 

Registration is now open for those interested in attending at either location. More information and a schedule of associated events can be found at the conference website

photo credit: jjbers via photopin

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