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EU’s privacy high priest: Plans big on hyperbole, less clear on specifics

European data protection watchdog wants new ethics board

Fresh from preaching about data protection regulation, Europe’s high priest of privacy is planning to take on ethics.

Giovanni Buttarelli, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), has said that his institution will soon set up an external Ethics Board to “help define a new digital ethics in ways that reinforce the rights and freedoms of individuals”.

Essentially, he doesn’t want human beings reduced to mere “data subjects” – which is all well and good, but not really his job.

Officially, the EDPS is charged with “monitoring the EU administration's processing of personal data, advising on policies and legislation that affect privacy and cooperating with similar authorities to ensure consistent data protection”.

But, said Buttarelli:

While the law is a powerful element, it cannot address the many nuanced scenarios that arise in the digital market.

The future technological environment will be made up of an interdependent ecosystem of legislators, corporations, IT developers and individuals.

Each should be equally responsible for shaping it and any imbalance of power risks its sustainability.

In the full published opinion, the EDPS calls upon organisations to self-police and develop “a new ethical approach to handling the personal data they collect”.

“Just because an organisation can piece together a customer’s life from their data trail, it does not mean it always should. This is not to paint an alarmist picture of dystopia. Discussions are already ongoing in the legal, political, economic, social, scientific and even religious spheres,” says the opinion.

How, when and where Buttarelli’s church board will be set up is not explained. ®

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