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Op-ed : "Answer to Madam Jourová: it is time to act for personal data protection" by Laure Kaltenbach and Olivier Le Guay

You are right, Mrs Věra Jourová[1], to mobilize in your recent tribune of January 28th, 2015. Our digital identity has now become a currency!

Op-ed previously published in french in La Tribune

Your warning, to prevent personal data (personal data widened to metadata at the core of algorithms) from being reduced to a commodity, joins the collective mobilization launched by the Forum d’Avignon and the 200 signatories [among whom are Abd Al Malik, the President of the CESE Jean-Paul Delevoye, the Director of the Avignon Festival Olivier Py, the sociologist Saskia Sassen, the former Olympic athlete Kenny Andam, the President of Cannes Festival Pierre Lescure, the economists Elie Cohen, Christian de Boissieu et Bernard Landry, the cartoonists Plantu and JUL, the business representatives from Microsoft, 55, Fabernovel, Neuflize OBC, EY, National Geographic, UGC, Gaumont but also from institutions : CNL, SACEM…] for 8 articles of a Preliminary Declaration on digital human rights available in 8 languages ( last September, taken over by the 2nd Forum of the Human Rights in Marrakech on November 29th, 2014, and followed by the declaration of the European data governance forum (EDGF) of December 8th, 2014, signed by the Article 29 Working Party, the European authorities of personal data protection federated around the French CNIL. You are right, Madam Commissioner, it is time to take action!

Building a European ethical and practical framework on personal data. Everyone shares the need for a humanist ambition and for pragmatism that does not mortgage technological evolutions. As shown by the declaration of the Forum d’Avignon and the preamble of the Joint statement of the European Data Protection Authorities Assembled in the Article29 working party “Technology is a medium that must remain at the service of man. The fact that something is technically feasible, and that data processing may sometimes yield useful intelligence or enable the development of new services, does not necessarily mean that it is also socially acceptable, ethical, reasonable or lawful.”

Wanting a society helped by data – and not data-driven – dismisses both the supporters of technology (transhumanists and company) and those who would like to stop everything (in the name of the precautionary principle). We share with the G29 the conviction that fundamental rights of the citizens (private life, freedom of expression…) must get guarantees, but also that data is shaping our future: “Such compliance is a key competitive factor for the digital economy; it will also ensure its sustainable development, to the benefit of consumers and industry alike.”

Madam Commissioner, the solutions are on the table, it is now up to you to seize upon them. The urgency is to build what the Forum d’Avignon calls “a data ethics”, defined by the G29 such as “a framework that enables private companies and other relevant bodies to innovate and offer goods and services that meet consumer demand or public needs, whilst allowing national intelligence services to perform their missions within the applicable law but avoiding a surveillance society”. Europe must set an example – what the next directive will seal – with, according to the G29 “principles (…) of an internationally mandatory nature under public and private international law”.

A personal data ethics must also mean a universal recognition. When it appeared clearly that the genome opened up some profit perspectives that pharmaceutical groups wanted to keep for themselves, the international community has managed, in spite of cultural and political divergences, to sanctuarize our DNA in the Universal declaration on the human genome ratified by Unesco on November 11th, 1997. This does not prevent the States (or continents) to have distinct laws, nor research to progress. A universal ethical framework sets safeguards and principles of “living together”. History repeats itself for our “digital DNA”. “Favor a collective ethics in the use, security and collective research since they respect human dignity and cultural diversity”: the Preliminary declaration on digital human rights, launched by the Forum d’Avignon and the 200 signatories, is naturally, designed to evolve. Personal data does not merge into intellectual property or copyright, but is rather designed to become a collective good, subject to a real anonymization. The challenge is mostly to balance “protection of the individuals” and “commercial exploitation” so that everyone can benefit, consciously, from the services made available by the use of data.

Madam Commissioner, in parallel with the European directive on personal data, help us to bring the Declaration on Digital Human Rights in the Commission and Unesco. It took five years of debates for the Universal declaration on the human genome; it is high time to mobilize for the future “digital” generations.

[1] Commissioner in charge of Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality