Simon Davies: stronger privacy laws needed
On 16 January, Privacy First Foundation held its New Year drinks with several prominent speakers. Main topics were the new EU personal data protection regulation and the NSA eavesdropping scandal. After a introduction by Privacy First chairman Bas Filippini and a speech by CBP chairman Jacob Kohnstamm the floor was given to the founder and former director of Privacy International: Simon Davies. Below is our summary:
Simon Davies began his speech by saying that he agrees with Jacob Kohnstamm on many points, but disagrees on some aspects and is generally less optimistic. Davies outlined four possible future scenarios:
1) Powerful organisations will exercise more and more power unless we choose to hold them accountable.
2) Technology will overwhelm us unless we choose to put humans at the centre of technology design.
3) Commercial organisations will make money from every atom of every human being unless we resist.
4) Our laws will become less effective and deteriorate unless we educate our legislators.
In more and more areas, secret services are gaining influence or becoming active. Proportionally, however, too much attention is paid to specific issues surrounding the NSA; as a result, many other issues are left out of the picture. Furthermore, it is mainly the British-American-oriented media that cover the NSA scandal. In many countries, however, citizens are hardly aware of it and political passivity prevails. Tapping of sea cables is not mentioned at all by policymakers in most countries. Scandals like the one now surrounding the NSA have been repeated in the past, and history shows that little usually changes afterwards. In the United States, people are primarily interested in the fundamental rights of Americans, not the rights of people elsewhere in the world. Moreover, secret services are extraordinarily good at lying. Therefore, nothing will change unless the European Union will take a strong stand against the practices of the NSA, Davies said.
On the new EU regulation on personal data protection, Davies first noted that this regulation is under tremendous pressure: international pressure, commercial pressure, national sovereignty and exceptions for police, justice and secret services, thousands of amendments, lobbyists, and pressure from the European Council (especially the UK) to sabotage the whole process of creating the regulation. However, it is important to still use European influence positively. In addition, there are the multinationals: companies like Google are miffed by European legislation. Current fines they can face do not pose any threat to these types of companies. So the question is: how can European privacy laws be effectively enforced against these kinds of companies? Finding answers to this question is the challenge for the time ahead.