Two months to go till the 2018 Privacy Conference - book your seats now!

Giovanni Buttarelli

August in Brussels is often a rather quiet affair as the EU bubble floats temporarily away from the European capital.

But this is no normal summer for the EDPS. In precisely two months’ time, from 22 to 26 October, the 2018 International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners will start right here in the heart of the EU, and my staff and I are hard at work to host a data protection conversation like no other.

We aim to prepare a unique and thought-provoking programme of events on the theme of Digital Ethics. With our programme now really beginning to take shape, I am delighted to be able to share with you an insight into what you might expect when you arrive at the European Parliament on 24 October. It will feature keynotes from the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager, contributions from former Chief Justice of India, Jagdish Singh Khehar, the President of the European Court of Human Rights Guido Raimondi, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai.

In the year of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), some might ask why we have chosen this focus for the latest edition of the Conference. There is a simple and compelling reason for this.

The GDPR provides us with a framework for data protection in the digital era. It is the first step in ensuring that we are able to reap the benefits offered by new technologies while still enjoying our fundamental rights to data protection and privacy. But data protection alone can only take us so far. This year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, among many other examples, provides ample evidence of this.

The open session of the conference on Wednesday 24 and Thursday 25 October will take place in the Hemicycle of the European Parliament. We will explore the impact of digital technologies on our lives and the ethical approaches required to orient the design and application of these technologies. Our discussion will touch on such varied yet interconnected topics as artificial intelligence, facial recognition and biometrics, the attention and addiction economy, micro-targeting in political campaigns, tracking and surveillance, digital monopolies, big nudging and discrimination and biases in algorithms.

These are topics which affect us all on a daily basis, in all aspects of life and to an ever-increasing extent. We need to ensure that the new technologies behind them are developed in such a way that they enhance our shared rights and values and improve our way of life, and not the opposite. Exploring the concept of digital ethics is a good place to start.

We decided to design a programme different to what might have been expected. Divided into five sessions, each will build on the ideas of the one preceding it. We will introduce the notion of ethics and how ethical consensus emerges around the world in diverse disciplines. We will explore from a variety of perspectives how the ‘Digital Dividend’ is being shared, who is really benefiting and who is being harmed by the application of technology, and the apparent underlying ethics. The final session will address the issue of governance: what should our next steps be, who should take them, and how? 

We want to allow all voices to be heard, whether civil society, academia, industry, government or regulators, everyone is welcome.

I am delighted to be able to count on the presence of several eminent figures to contribute to the discussion. These come not only from the data protection community, but from a wide range of disciplinary areas and professional backgrounds, linked by the common theme of ethics.
For example, high level academic exponents, such as Professors Anita Allen and Effy Vayena, will talk about the evolution of ethics and its role in the human society, will investigate the origins of autonomy, and will provide a picture of the relationship between ethics and law.

Other important exponents, such as Professors Timothy Caulfield and Norman Sadeh, will provide insights on applied ethics in other fields and address more specific topics such as the role of science (and pseudo-science) in determining epistemic norms and the methods by which values translate into ethics in the workplace.

These academic views, essential to frame a topic such as digital ethics, will then be joined by institutional and international perspectives such as the one from Justice Khehar, who will introduce  privacy as a fundamental right in India, and the European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Mariya Gabriel, who will address how the EU is seeking a fair allocation of the digital dividend. We will discuss with experts with on-the-ground experience how technology is deployed by both states and big companies to effect surveillance and control around the world, and the impact on social cohesion and inclusiveness of initiatives like China’s Social Credit System and the Aadhaar identification system.

The data protection community, currently faced with the task of trying to manage the dynamic between data protection and digital innovation, is well-placed to take the lead in exploring digital ethics, but it is not a topic that can be addressed in isolation. On Thursday morning, some of my esteemed colleagues from around the world, like the Chair of the European Data Protection Board, Andrea Jelinek, the Privacy Commissioner of the Philippines, Raymond Liboro, the UK Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, and the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Daniel Therrien, will tell us how they see their role as DPAs in the digital world and digital ethics.

Working in parallel to the session in the Parliament Chamber on Thursday morning and drawing on the ideas raised in the discussions there, we will have the Creative Room, an interactive group-work session involving some of the world’s leading thinkers in the data protection sphere and beyond. Small working groups made up of people from different disciplines will engage in in-depth discussions on some of the most urgent questions of digital ethics. The task will be to develop potential trajectories for a practical approach to digital ethics.

We want this conference to be a discussion. We want you to be fully involved and to engage directly with our experts. We want to listen to and discuss your ideas as well as theirs.

I therefore encourage you to take a look at the 2018 international conference website for profiles of our distinguished speakers and to follow closely both the EDPS and the 2018 International Conference on Twitter for further exciting announcements over the coming weeks.

I also invite you, data protection expert or not, to join us for an interactive discussion on digital ethics. No matter what your background or expertise, this is an issue which touches us all, and we would be delighted to welcome you to the European Parliament in Brussels on 24-25 October 2018!

Details on how to register can be found on the website:

Make sure you sign up before 10 September 2018 to take advantage of our early bird rates!

We’re looking forward to welcoming you all to Brussels in October.