Greetings from Brussels!
It’s been a busy week here in Europe with the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners taking place. The format this year was somewhat modified, with the annual event spanning two cities. The main event took place in Brussels — in the European Parliament — hosted by the EDPS, while a concurrent event was being held in Sofia, hosted by the Commission for Personal Data Protection, the national supervisory authority of Bulgaria. The public session's theme this year was centered on the debate around data ethics and how dignity and respect can continue to exist — protected — in our increasingly data-driven society. The objective, broadly, was to examine the impact of how data — and those controlling that data — are influencing our values.
I was delighted to be invited by Bulgarian Commissioner Ventsislav Karadjov to speak in Sofia at the opening plenary panel Monday in distinguished company, alongside representatives of the Japanese and Russian data protection authorities, the European Commission, and the Council of Europe. Respecting the main theme of the conference, we had an engaging panel on the interaction of privacy and human dignity with an emphasis on the concept of universal values in a world without borders. The Bulgarian DPA put on a very strong program, and it was a little surreal to meet and recognize delegates attending both the Sofia and Brussels events; clearly, some folks were intent on attending both events.
I was back in Brussels for the IAPP-hosted welcome reception held Tuesday evening at the Museum complex of Fine Arts and the Rene Magritte Museum. What was noticeable this year was the high number of delegates at the event: more than 1,200 delegates in total in Brussels for the ICDPPC main conference, and a good number of them were at our reception. In a splendid location, the event was appreciated by many, particularly the private viewing sessions of the Magritte collection organized for delegates.
Speaking with privacy pros here, including several of the IAPP volunteer leadership, the consensus is that the event programming was of a particularly high standard; I do concur. I have one name for you: Giovanni Buttarelli. The success of this event has been largely due to the tireless efforts and energy of Buttarelli and his team. Moreover, his opening speech at the public session was in my view one of his most visionary, as well as personal, to date.
He spoke to human values underlining the evolutionary nature of privacy: In short, where society is expected to respect the basic needs for privacy — a fundamental and universal right — that respect is perpetually evolving and changing the landscape of privacy. Digitalization has only compounded this fact, as it intersects with our private lives it transcends our human boundaries and values, and not always for the betterment of society. The generational shift some 20 years ago around consensus in the respect for privacy has been an engine for the continued emergence of data protection rules.
Apple CEO Tim Cook put it succinctly in his keynote here at the European Parliament when he said, and I paraphrase, “AI holds the promise to learn from the individual to benefit us all: To be truly smart, AI must respect human values including privacy — getting this wrong is not an option.”
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