All research points in the same direction. Most people do not fully understand how corporations and governments process their data. They worry about misuse of their data, and that worry is not entirely misplaced. Many organisations are reckless in their use of data, and not all have good intentions.
This gap – between organisations’ processing activities and people’s understanding – is a problem. A problem that modern data protection law is trying to address. This gap is also something organisations should want to bridge, regardless of regulations.
In addition to being compliant, there are several strong reasons why businesses should want to take action.
- First of all, to have close, strong relationships built on trust with customers, citizens and employees. This is also in the interest of the data controller. Also, from an ethical point of view, it’s important to respect human rights and data subjects’ expectations.
- The arguably most important reason though, relates to one of the greatest global challenges of our time.
How privacy professionals are working on one of the greatest challenges of our time
The technical development moves fast, especially in biotechnology. Soon, machines will know us better than we know ourselves. They will not only be able to track our online behaviour, our interests, relationships and habits. They will also be able to track what’s happening inside our bodies and minds.
Machines will be able to track and understand our brain activities, physical reactions, blood pressure and physical wellbeing. And they will do this better and faster than what we ever could ourselves. Considering who leads the technical development, it is likely that certain corporations and governments will be in control of this information about who we are, as individuals and societies.
The opportunities that come with this new technology are obviously great. We can not, and should not, stop it. But it also comes with great risks.
Not only do we look at increased “traditional” privacy risks, such as the risk of facing difficulties to get insurance or employment if information falls into the wrong hands (or right hands, depending on how you see things). But we’re also going to have to deal with certain new types of risk. Technology that track and assess what’s happening inside our bodies and minds, can potentially be used also to hack us.
Through advertising and fake news, external parties can already now influence our decision making and “free will”. But with the advancements in biotechnology, external parties may even be able to make decisions for us, with or without our knowledge or consent. In “21 lessons for the 21st century”, Yuval Noah Harari suggests this development may even mean we will give up on democracy for the benefit of digital dictatorship.
How to move forward in the 21st century
What we can and must do, is to figure out how to deal with this new reality. We need to reach global consensus on matters like how to use data and what the future of privacy looks like. Who should own data; corporations, governments, individuals or society as a whole?
The answers to these questions are important. Far too important for us to leave it to the few corporations and governments that currently holds most of the data, resources and technology.
We need more stakeholders to join the discussion.
Privacy professionals have a key role to play here. It’s not our job to decide what is right or wrong. But we can make sure that the most important stakeholders, i.e. everyone on this planet, have access to relevant information. That way, they can form an opinion and take part in the discussion.
We have to start by explaining to people how their data is currently used.
We have to make people understand.
We have to make people expect to understand.
We have to make people expect to have a say in how their data is used.
Regardless of an organisation’s reason for trying to bridge the above mentioned gap, they certainly should. And transparency is the right tool, regardless of the reason being the main driver. I for one hope that it’s never compliance only. But as long as we’re moving in the right direction, we’re making progress.
Privacy professionals, it’s time to rise and become the privacy heroes you truly are.
– Egil Bergenlind, CEO of DPOrganizer
This blogpost originally appeared on Medium.
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