Greetings form Brussels!
Late last week, European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) Giovanni Buttarelli unexpectedly released an opinion on technology and ethics, with the stated aim of filling in gaps in consumer protection rules left unaddressed by the ongoing EU privacy reforms. The EDPS's office also has an independent ethics board in mind to advise on “the relationships between human rights, technology, markets and business models in the 21st century.” The board—with a projected mandate of up to 18 months—would be international in its composition; both EU as well as U.S. advisors could be invited.
Buttarelli’s latest opinion looks at emerging tech trends that "raise the most important ethical and practical questions for the application of data protection principles." He was expected to meet with officials from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the White House this week. Nothing has emerged from those meetings as this goes to publication, so let’s keep an eye on how his proposals have been received by the Americans.
As a supporting statement, Buttarelli said, “the debate in our view should be global. There is a growing interest from the tech community in what we're doing here and to which extent the EU will have leadership on data protection.” One wonders how this will be received by member state legislators; will this new initiative be supported by the responsible policy makers? I would also imagine that the national data protection regulators—who uphold their national legislation—will be interested in seeing how their respective governments take to this idea; regulators have a challenging enough role as is. The findings of such a board should in theory assist regulators in their ongoing efforts to provide guidance at the national level. At the pan-European level, it might well contribute to shaping a common understanding and application of ethical questions across the EU.
In parallel news and staying in the same vein, the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) published its position as well as a list of “urgent” consumer recommendations ahead of this week’s trilogue negotiations on the General Data Protection Regulation. The consumer rights group warned that the Council’s approach on provisions like purpose limitation—data collected for one purpose to be usable in certain other ways—risks an “unacceptable weakening” of current protection standards. BEUC also wants the definition of personal data to include pseudonymous data, as this can be traced back to the individual, and a narrow definition of the “legitimate interests” that can be used to justify data processing.
Without doubt, the globe is watching these trilogue negotiations. And the EDPS has made it clear he’s watching back.
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