Internet of Things Demands New Social Contract To Protect Privacy

Changes brought about by the Internet of Things demands the creation of a whole new social contract to enshrine the right to privacy and prevent the creation of technology-fueled Orwellian surveillance states in which individual privacy protections take a back seat to security and “control.” That, according to an opinion piece penned by the head of the European Commission’s Knowledge Sharing Unit.

Gerald Santucci
Santucci argues that existing notions of privacy need to be re-evaluated in light of technology-driven changes. (Photo courtesy of Twitter.)

Gérald Santucci, in an essay written for the web site privacysurgeon.org, argues that technology advances, including the advent of wearable technology and the combination of inexpensive, remote sensors and Big Data analytics threaten to undermine long-held notions like personal privacy and the rights of individuals. The essays says that current approaches to data protection are “largely inadequate” to the task of reigning in the asymmetrical changes wrought by new technology.

“Data collection and video surveillance will continue to grow as ubiquitous computing pervades almost all areas of our culture, either harnessed to our body or hovering over cities to monitor people from the sky,” Santucci writes.”Therefore the question is: do we want to live in a surveillance society that might ensure justice for all, yet privacy for none … or would we prefer a … scenario in which individuals are fully empowered to define borders of their own personal space?”

Santucci’s thoughts, which were first published on privacysurgeon.org, is a kind of thought exercise for EC policymakers, with Santucci discoursing on the EU’s current Data Protection Regulation, U.S. Government and FTC efforts to address online privacy, and  evolution of concepts like “privacy” and “trust.”

The European Union is currently embroiled in controversy over proposed changes to the Continent’s current data protection laws, which were passed almost two decades ago. The EC published a draft of a new data protection directive in early 2012, but the business community reacted negatively to the proposal and there has been little movement towards adopting that proposal since. A July vote by the European Parliament to adopt the directive was postponed until October.

Echoing the opinions of others in EU policy circles, Santucci is skeptical of efforts to use laws to shape technological evolution in a way that secures individual rights to privacy and data security. He notes the tendency of technologic evolution to upset even the most carefully written laws.

Instead, the EC needs to embrace core values of individual liberty (what he refers to as “Trust” against “Control”) without holding on too tightly to a 20th century notion of privacy that is likely to be changed by the relentless winds of change. “It is essential is to realize that the word ‘privacy’ will not have the same meaning in 2020 than the one it has today,” he writes. “By then, technology will have profoundly changed the way we live, and more importantly the way we apprehend our surroundings and even our existential challenges. We will have a different perception – and then conception – of ‘privacy’, ‘personal data’, ‘security’.”

The challenge for this generation of lawmakers, Santucci writes, is to support technological progress and change, without letting it undermine our core values – to “build an awesome future without trading away our human need for privacy.” 

Check out the full essay here.

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