Even if Scott McNealy was right in 1999 when he reportedly said “You have zero privacy anyway - Get over it”, individuals still deserve respect for their privacy. This respect does not always have to be imposed by law but should be a matter of integrity and ethics.

Recently the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) published Opinion 4/2015 entitled “Towards a new digital ethics – data, dignity and technology”.

The Opinion was published on 11 September last and follows on from the previous Opinion on the General Data Protection Regulation which aims to assist the main institutions of the EU in reaching the right consensus on a workable, future orientated set of rules which bolsters the rights and freedoms of the individual.

The latest Opinion focuses heavily on Article 1 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights namely that “human dignity is inviolable and must be respected and protected”.

The Opinion sets out a number of principles which state that the fundamental rights to privacy and to the protection of personal data must reflect the protection of human dignity more than ever; that technology should not dictate values and rights; in today’s digital environment, adherence to the law is not enough and we have to consider the ethical dimension of data processing and finally that these issues have engineering, philosophical, legal and moral implications.

The Opinion outlines a 4-tier big data protection eco-system namely:

  • Future orientated regulation of data processing and respect for the rights of privacy and data protection;
  • Accountable data controllers that determine personal information processing;
  • Privacy conscious engineering and design of data processing products and services; and
  • Empowered individuals.

The Opinion looks at a number of recent developments namely big data, the internet of things, cloud computing, drones and connected autonomous vehicles.

The Opinion proposes the creation of a European Ethics Advisory Board made up of academic, legal and other professionals in the arena, to advise the EDPS on the ethical issues of big data and related activities.

The Opinion precedes a meeting in The Hague in late October on similar topics by the Privacy Advisory Group of the United Nations where a workshop discussion on ethics and big data will be chaired by me.