Will new technologies protect privacy or hamper it in the post-September 11 world? Trends in information society technology will have a significant impact on the balance between citizens’ security and privacy, according to a report released today by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC). The study on “Security and Privacy for the Citizen in the Post-September 11 Digital Age: A Prospective Overview”, commissioned by the European Parliament, analyses the security and privacy implications of three emerging technologies: identity management (on-line services based on the identification of the user), location-based services (focusing on local positioning and tracking of the user) and virtual residence in an ambient intelligence environment (with “smart” and mobile electronic devices connected to our home, office, car etc.). According to the report, there is a need to restore the balance in favour of privacy as the use of these technologies for some governmental or commercial actions stretch the ability of current legislation to provide adequate personal data protection.
“In response to the threat of terrorism after the tragedy of September 11, many governments enhanced their surveillance powers, but at the risk of affecting privacy”, said European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. “However, citizens are not prepared to let privacy be one of the casualties in the war on terrorism. This comprehensive report will raise the awareness of decision makers for the need to maintain a balance between protecting data and making services widely available online, and the need to fight terrorism and crime whilst respecting individual privacy.”
“Steps have already been taken at the EU level to address concerns raised by some governmental or commercial use of communications technologies”, said Enterprise and Information Society Commissioner Liikanen. “The new Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications, applicable in all Member States at the end of this month, applies important principles of EU law to communications services, including new mobile and Internet-based services. For instance, it requires that location information generated by mobile phones can only be further used or passed on by network operators with prior user consent, unless it is an emergency call. Where exceptions have to be made, for example for national security, they must be necessary and proportionate and laid down in legislation”.
Reducing risks to a minimum
Based on security measures identified, the JRC report recommends:
The role of technology
Technology can bring about change - but also solutions to the problems caused by change. The flexibility of new technologies must be acknowledged and considered before appropriate policy measures can be formulated. While technologies could be used to invade privacy, they can also help enhance protection of personal data and increase transparency in security processes.
According to the JRC report, technology could play a key role in protecting individual privacy against abuse if aligned with current legal measures in the EU. The JRC identified a number of areas where policy action may be needed, such as: identity theft; private-sector databases; private-public sphere indicators; and technology-specific regulation.
In the case of identity theft in Europe, the report stressed that due to strong existing European legislation, which defines clear privacy and data protection rights, this type of crime is less frequent than in other countries. In order to maintain this level of security for the citizen, new technologies will need to be integrated into the existing legal framework. The report recommends that a monitoring activity be established to track the rate of change in technology, its impact on the security/privacy balance and the potential need for regulatory action.
Marta Gonzalez | alfa
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