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The Privacy Advisor | Stefano Rodotà, former Garante president and WP29 chair, 1933–2017 Related reading: Garante issues highest EU sanction on record

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Stefano Rodotà, one of the authors of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and chair of the Article 29 Working Party from 2000 through 2004, died last month at the age of 84.

As the first president of the Italian data protection authority, serving at the Garante from 1997 to 2004, Rodotà is rightly considered a founding father of the data protection community. But his work took him far beyond the privacy community. He was a prolific author, chairman of the scientific committee of the European Agency for Fundamental Rights, and even ran for president of Italy in the 2013 elections.

“Professor Stefano Rodotà blazed a trail for the rights of women and men with regard to information about them,” European Data Protection Supervisor Giovanni Buttarelli said, “in the days when data protection was still an obscure corner of the law and hardly at all on the radar of politicians and CEOs.”

His passing, IAPP Board Member Rocco Panetta said, “has left family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances and all those who knew him and admired his personality and fine thinking, both in Italy and abroad, in deep sorrow. Indeed, he will also be missed from academia and institutions alike for his relentless activity of faithful service to the State. He was a sophisticated jurist, always capable of dealing with complex and ever-changing matters — from civil rights to environmental law, from data protection and privacy to the internet.”

“During his long life,” EDPS Acting Director Leonardo Cervera Navas said, Rodotà “mastered three professions that he could combine with admirable skill: the professor or the philosopher, the lawyer, and the politician. Depending on the circumstances, he could go to his private bank and cash the necessary funds of academic reputation, legal knowledge or political influence, and this made this former member of the Italian Communist Party the best possible ally or the most formidable rival.”

It is clear from the remembrances provided to The Privacy Advisor that Rodotà left a lasting and deep-seated impression on his colleagues and those he led.

“I had the privilege of working alongside him for eight intense years at the Italian data protection authority,” Buttarelli said, “while he provided inspirational leadership to the Article 29 Working Party, still in its early days. He was unique in his ability to grasp details without ever losing sight of the big picture.

“At Faculty of Law in Rome University,” he noted, “I witnessed a 50-minute period of unbroken applause in Stefano’s honor.

“Italy’s data protection tradition will always bear his imprint. He was the driving force behind the national laws I drafted in the ’90s and then in 2003. Moreover, as one of the leading authors of Article 8 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the first constitutional articulation of a basic right to personal data protection, Stefano has also left an indelible mark on the privacy community worldwide, in academia, in government or in the media, something for which every citizen owes him a considerable debt of gratitude.”

“Italy’s data protection tradition will always bear his imprint.” — Giovanni Buttarelli, EDPS

Of course, Rodotà’s influence spread far beyond the EU.

“In 2008,” recalled Navas at the EDPS, “the European Commission seconded me as visiting scholar at Duke University and as part of my outreach activities, I had the privilege of organizing the First Data Privacy Day in the United States. I asked Professor Rodotà to support my efforts and he came all the way to North Carolina to help me (as [then EDPS] Peter Hustinx did from Brussels and Giovanni Buttarelli from Rome). In a memorable dinner at the Washington Duke Hotel, he told me about his days as a young professor in the ’50s and the ’60s, as well as the turbulent political times he had to endure in the ’70s and the ’80s before being elected as a member of the European Parliament in 1989.”

Panetta similarly noted Rodotà’s personal commitment and touch, starting with his first meeting with the man 25 years ago at La Sapienza University of Rome’s School of Law.

“That time I had my academic epiphany,” Panetta said. “In fact, Rodotà resumed with enthusiasm his former professorial activities and introduced some of the most revolutionary and innovative approaches to the study of law. Themes ranging from the right to property to new technologies, from contracts to bioethics, from philosophy to fundamental rights were top of his daily dose of intellectual stimulus for students and researchers. In fact, by no coincidence one of the best-sellers and most talked about textbooks of those university years was his ‘Technologies and Rights’ textbook.

“After he agreed to supervise me in the drafting of my final thesis on civil liability for environmental damages, we developed a relationship that brought him to welcome me within his staff of assistant professors. From that moment, a long, intense and life-changing journey of study, collaboration and friendship has begun, coming to a sad end only last month.”

Panetta noted particularly that Rodotà wasn’t someone known only for a particular skill, field of study or talent. Rather, he was wide ranging in his interests and, therefore, his impact.

“First of all, he was a great jurist and although keener on civil law rather than constitutional matters, he never failed to consider Italy’s Constitution, which he actively contributed to drafting, and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights as the guiding principles of present and future legal challenges. As a politician, independent and distinctive in his approach, he never had government roles, but he was always present as a faithful man of the institutions. … In 2000, I became part of his staff at the Garante because he had decided to surround himself with young professionals in order to strengthen his ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking and foster his already sensational capability to capture emerging legal issues regarding the world of technology. Of that time, I still recall that the first assignment I was given was to prepare a study on the relationship between privacy and the internet. In effect, a report on what are today’s most important and complex juridical challenges, from all legal perspectives.”

But Rodotà also chaired the Italian Commission for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and worked to reform the Italian Civil Code and draft the Internet Bill of Rights, Panetta noted. “He taught and gave lectures in universities and conventions all over the world, from the U.S. to Latin America, Canada, Australia and India; he covered the role of vice president of the Italian Parliament in the bloodiest period of the fight against criminal organizations and then, unwilling or not, was indicated as a possible candidate for the presidency of the republic.”

“He hated dishonesty, artifices and scams, above all.” — Rocco Panetta, IAPP Board of Directors

Finally, in his personal life, “Rodotà was uncompromising,” Panetta said. “He hated dishonesty, artifices and scams, above all. This came out both in his academic, as well as in his institutional life. In fact, as a young assistant professor, alongside my colleagues Teresa Anecca and Andrea Putignani, I was amazed by his commitment and intransigence against outside pressures and exam recommendations that were somehow quite a common characteristic of some figures who attended university in those years.

“He was also a traveler and a culture and gourmet aficionado. I remember that in his gray Lancia Libra, there was always some guide to the best Italian restaurants and a practical straw hat to better deal with leisure and travel. He knew Paris almost like Rome, and it was thanks to him that I first discovered Marais and the small Ile-de-Saint Louis. Every time we saw each other, we first talked about work to do, latest readings and new innovations worthy of attention from both a practical and a juridical point of view. But then, as his foodie side came out and his tone of voice turned lower, he was asking me to provide him with all the updates on my travels and my new gourmet discoveries.”

Quite simply, “In Italy, he was considered a celebrity,” Navas said, “and, in Brussels, a truly wise man. … As the famous Italian performer Adriano Celentano once said about him, ‘Stefano Rodotà is the man we all look forward to.’ Indeed, many of us look to Professor Rodotà as a beacon of wisdom and serene determination in a world where, unfortunately, the dignity of individuals is not always at the center of political discussions.”

Photo credit: Niccolò Caranti via Creative Commons license.

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