Greetings from Hong Kong!
If you'll bear with me once more, I'd like to offer a few additional thoughts from the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners, held here last week. While Hong Kong itself is the height of modernism, outfitted with every gadget and light display imaginable, it remains remarkably traditional, from the food sellers on the streets to the ships traveling its many harbors and inlets. So, too, did the world's data protection authorities grapple with brand-new technological concerns while also addressing seemingly eternal questions.
Perhaps what spun my head the most was the data ethics discussion that seemed to be happening at every lunch table and in every hallway. While in some circles it seems almost a priori that we should be working toward some kind of universal code of ethics for data use, I kept hearing the question, "Whose ethics?"
As a Westerner in the East, this resonated with me particularly. From our palates to our interpersonal interactions to our religions to our climates, each region of the world has its own definition of "normal." Its own definition of "acceptable." And it would be strange if that were not true. Our worldviews are shaped by our upbringing, culture and education but also by our environment and physical space. In my little hometown of Gray, Maine, we are very private people, perhaps because we have so much land available to us and our neighbors are at such physical distance. Or perhaps because it is so cold in the winter we are forced to bundle up and cover our physical bodies so extensively. Maybe it's a result of the original spirit of Maine, a breakaway colony from Massachusetts. Who can say, definitively?
In the extreme heat of Hong Kong, with many locals shirtless in restaurants and the streets flooded with humanity, I couldn't help but wonder, "How could their ideas of privacy be the same as mine? How could we ever come to a common belief system for how data should ethically be used?" I don't envy those making the attempt to find that common denominator to which we can all agree.
At the very least, however, I hope all of us having the conversation are able to recognize the background we bring to the table, that it is likely to be different from whoever is sitting on the other side of the table, and we are able to make allowances for a spectrum of ethical worldviews.
Perhaps that is the greatest benefit of the traveling privacy and data protection roadshow that is the ICDPPC: that each commissioner gets a chance to experience a new and different culture each year and to learn from that experience.
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