Greetings from Brussels!
This has been a very dark week for Europe following the terror attacks in Paris last Friday. I have just returned from Paris, where I was awestruck by the collective sense of unity across the city in the aftermath of the weekend’s chaos. Accompanied by Mindy Moore, the IAPP director of events, we participated in the Paris KnowledgeNet and were moved by the strong turnout of our members and their determination to stand strong in the face of fear and prevailing sense of siege. This energy was felt throughout the city and I think this is a testament to French courage.
That said, in the wake of these horrific terrorist attacks, one needs to ask how Europe’s fundamental right to data privacy can co-exist with increasing demands and perhaps justifiable needs for electronic surveillance in the name of national—member state—as well as European security.
Of late, Europe has seen new proposed powers for national security services in countries such as the UK and France, which have been criticized by civil liberties groups as well some technology companies. One could well argue that the balance between individual privacy and national security needs to be examined more closely as current instability continues to undermine our existing infrastructure. If you were to sound out public opinion in Belgium, France or Germany after this weeks’ events, you might not be surprised to find a higher level of support in favor of greater surveillance powers. Far more critically, an equally important question is whether we can secure the European Union in a less fragmented way. While messages of solidarity with France have been flooding in from across the continent, with talk of unity and common anxiety, there remain divisions across Europe regarding police and intelligence co-operation, as well as border controls. How these issues are resolved could well determine whether the European Union emerges stronger from this string of seemingly endless challenges.
On the other side of the Atlantic, this week saw U.S. law enforcement officials perhaps predictably calling for wider ranging changes to electronic surveillance laws to combat terrorism, including limitations on data encryption technologies. This has also been expressed here in Europe. The drive behind these calls stems from disruptive innovations moving at lightning pace, challenging our socially held notions of what constitutes a reasonable expectation of privacy in an increasingly borderless connected society. Encryption, big data, cloud computing—all these technologies have the potential to upset the balance between individual freedom and public protection. Resetting the balance to ensure continued social order and all that it promises remains top of the agenda regardless of the side of the Atlantic on which you sit.
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