Data protection and detection technologies
- Opinion of the data protection Working Party 


"not everything that is technically feasible is also socially and politically acceptable, ethically admissible and legally allowable."


The EU's Article 29 Working Party on data protection has published: Opinion 1/2007 on Green Paper on Detection Technologies in response to the Commission's Green Paper on: Detection technologies in the work of law enforcement, customs and other security authorities (See: Statewatch analysis: Detection technologies and democracy).

The Working Party sets out by observing that detection technologies the:

"minimisation of the processing of personal data"

in view of the fact that detection technologies provide:

"the means of developing surveillance, and surveillance on an unprecedented scale."

In this context the Opinion draws attention to the Communication adopted at the 28th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners:

"Surveillance activities can be well-intentioned and bring benefits. So far the expansion of these activities has developed in relatively benign and piecemeal ways in democratic societies - not because governments or businesses necessarily wish to intrude into the lives of individuals in an unwarranted way. Some of these activities are necessary or desirable in principle - for example, to fight terrorism and serious crime, to improve entitlement and access to public services, and to improve healthcare.

But unseen, uncontrolled or excessive surveillance activities also pose risks that go much further than just affecting privacy. They can foster a climate of suspicion and undermine trust. The collection and use of vast amounts of personal information by public and private organisations leads to decisions which directly influence peoples’ lives. By classifying and profiling automatically or arbitrarily, they can stigmatise in ways which create risks for individuals and affect their access to services. There is particularly an increasing risk of social exclusion."

The Working Party thus emphasises that:

"not everything that is technically feasible is also socially and politically acceptable, ethically admissible and legally allowable."

It also draws attention to the principle of proportionality in relation to the fundamental right to privacy in Article 8 of the ECHR which they states implies that measures must demonstrate an:

"imperative social need"

and not simply be "useful".

The Working Party is particularly concerned about:

"the equation that is seemingly made in the document between “terrorism” and “other forms of crime”"

The terms terrorism should be "defined very clearly" and "the two concepts should be kept separate".

The Working Party is also concerned about a proposal in the Commission's Green Paper:

"Would it be possible to create European or regional centres for data and text mining which several Member States and their authorities could use for data and text mining?"

In this context the Opinion draws attention to its report on e-mail screening services where:

“The computerisation of data and the possibility of carrying out full-text searches creates an unlimited number of ways of querying and sorting information, with Internet dissemination increasing the risk of collection for improper purposes."

Sources

1. Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, Opinion 1/2007 on Green Paper on Detection Technologies

2. Commission's Green Paper on: Detection technologies in the work of law enforcement, customs and other security authorities

3. Statewatch analysis: Detection technologies and democracy


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