Debating Ethics: Dignity and Respect in Data Driven Life


The following conference and information leaflets are now available to download and to print.

Ethics Advisory Group Report 2018


As part of the EDPS 2015-2019 strategy, the Ethics Advisory Group is set up with the mandate to explore the relationships between human rights, technology, markets and business models in the 21st century.

The EAG has now published its Report 2018.


THINKING GLOBAL, ACTING LOCAL: exploring common values that underpin privacy


On 25 September 2017, in the margins of the 39th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners in Hong Kong, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Privacy, Digital Asia Hub and the European Data Protection Supervisor hosted a meeting with a difference.
Our aim with this meeting was to start a conversation with people from around the world about the values that they think underpin privacy in their countries to see what the similarities and differences are.

2018 International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners to focus on Digital Ethics

Press Release

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), Giovanni Buttarelli, and the Chairman of the Commission for Personal Data Protection of the Republic of Bulgaria (CPDP), Ventislav Karadjov, would like to extend their warmest congratulations to the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data in Hong Kong, who hosted this year’s thought provoking edition of the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (ICDPPC).

Preparations for the next International Conference, to be hosted by the EDPS and the CPDP in October 2018, will now proceed in earnest.

Giovanni Buttarelli, EDPS, said: One of our biggest challenges as data protection and privacy regulators today is how to respond to the way in which the digital arena is changing our mission in relation to data protection and privacy. The 2018 International Conference will address this challenge by asking whether an ethical approach is needed to regulate the digital world and, if so, how this approach might be developed and implemented. This is a pivotal moment and we must act to ensure that technology is designed and developed to serve humankind and not the other way around.

Companies and governments are beginning to take advantage of technological developments related to the internet of things, big data, robotics and artificial intelligence. Though these developments can bring many benefits for individuals and society, these benefits depend on ensuring that our values, based on a common respect for the individual and human dignity, remain a core component of innovation. The 2018 International Conference will aim to address these issues by facilitating an open and transparent conversation at global level, and across many different disciplines, on Digital Ethics.

Ventislav Karadjov, Chairman of the CPDP, said: The International Conference brings together representatives from more than one hundred privacy and data protection authorities around the world. In this era of unprecedented change, where the political and social importance of privacy and data protection in the international arena are higher than they have ever been, it will provide the ideal forum to kick-start the movement towards ensuring respect and dignity for the individual in the digital environment.

Inspired by the theme of this year’s conference in Hong Kong, which focused on connecting the West with the East, the UN special rapporteur on Privacy, the Digital Asia Hub and the EDPS jointly hosted a side event at the conference, focused on exploring what privacy means in different countries and cultures. Aimed at data protection and privacy authorities and regulators, the event provided an opportunity for an open and interactive exchange of ideas, which proved both thought provoking and revealing. The 2018 International Conference will look to take this debate further.

The EDPS and the CPDP look forward to welcoming a wide spectrum of groups and individuals to the International Conference in 2018 to explore whether and how ethics can be asserted in our digital reality. More information on Digital Ethics and the 2018 International Conference, watch the conference video.

Debating Ethics: Dignity and Respect in Data Driven Life


In March this year, my respected colleague Ventislav Karadjov, Chairman of the Commission for Personal Data Protection of the Republic of Bulgaria (CPDP) and I announced that we will jointly be hosting the 40th annual International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners in October 2018.

The honour and responsibility to deliver this well-established, high-level meeting in 2018 - the first time in the conference’s almost 40 year history that an EU institution has been selected to host it - is a priority for both of our institutions. Indeed, our preparations are underway so that we can deliver a world-class conference.

All regions of the world and all areas of our societies are impacted by digitisation from leisure to learning, from healthcare to governance, from finance to farming.

In light of the global nature of this phenomenon, we will be Debating Ethics: Dignity and Respect in Data Driven Life to explore broadly how data and those controlling that data are influencing our values.

Data protection and privacy authorities are first-hand witnesses of this societal change. With the 2018 conference, we intend to examine the ethical principles that can help sustain digital fairness: What is respect in the digital age? Is our autonomy eroded online? How can we preserve equality and human dignity in this millennium?

We want to raise as much awareness about this important forum and the discussions that will take place there in 2018 as we can; we want to highlight how technology has implications for our fundamental rights - particularly for our privacy and the protection of our personal data.

With this in mind, the EDPS and the CPDP are launching a competition to design a logo for the 2018 International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners. While the conference is an important event for policy makers, civil society groups, academics, and industry, we also want to reach out to other groups who do not traditionally join in such discussions.

We believe this contest can help to generate interest among an important group of technology users. We’d appreciate it if you would spread the word.

More information on the design competition

English - French - German - Italian - Polish - Spanish

Data Driven Life – EDPS workshop on Ethics


On 18 May 2017, the EDPS is hosting a workshop on Data Driven Life (digital ethics) in Brussels.

With the support of the Ethics Advisory Group, the workshop will explore the positive and negative consequences of data-driven changes on society and on individuals to pursue their own life choices.

Data Driven Life will be about people rather than technology - citizens, users, consumers and communities - with a view to understanding how the use of data is propelling changes in society. With discussions ranging from health and scientific research, banking and insurance, humanitarian intelligence, citizenship to smart cities, the workshop targets a specific audience of academics and practitioners from the scientific and research fields.

This is the second workshop in the series organised by the EDPS advancing the global debate on the ethical dimension of the digital revolution. With the establishment of the Ethics Advisory Group and a well-received first workshop on the relationship between data protection and digital ethics, the debate was launched in 2016.

In October 2018, the EDPS and the Commission for Personal Data Protection of the Republic of Bulgaria will jointly host the 2018 International conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (ICDPPC). With digital ethics as the core theme of the conference, the conference will also see the culmination of the work of the Ethics Advisory Group.

We look forward to welcoming experts from all disciplines to the Data Driven Life workshop. Priority will be given to participants from the research community, both hard and soft sciences.

Press Statement - 2018 International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners to be hosted in Brussels

Press Release

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), Giovanni Buttarelli and the Chairman of the Commission for Personal Data Protection of the Republic of Bulgaria, Ventsislav Karadjov thank the Members, the Chair and the Executive Committee of the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (ICDPPC) for their confidence in them to jointly host the prestigious 40th annual conference in October 2018.

The conference will be an important step in the recently launched international debate on the ethical dimension of data protection in the digital era.

Up to one thousand national regulators, government representatives, NGOs and experts will come to Brussels to attend the conference in a year when the EU General Data Protection Regulation comes into force. Accompanying conference events will also take place in Bulgaria.

It is the first time that the conference will be organised by an EU institution together with a national supervisory authority. The 2018 conference is a unique opportunity for the EDPS, as the independent supervisory authority for the EU institutions, to highlight the leading role that the European Union has played over the years in data protection, privacy and freedom of information throughout the world.

The Commission for Personal Data Protection of the Republic of Bulgaria is currently vice-chair of the Article 29 Working Party, the EU Advisory Body on Data Protection and Privacy. The 2018 international conference will be a timely follow-up to the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU which also takes place in 2018.

Preparations for the 2018 conference will now begin. More details on this and the activities of the Ethics Advisory Group will follow in due course.

An ethical approach to fundamental rights


If you believe the words sometimes attributed to Gandhi, law is codified ethics. But effective laws and standards of ethics are guidelines accepted by members of a society, and these require a social consensus. I believe that technology is changing or at the very least influencing our ethics and it’s a phenomenon we need to urgently address.

On 31 May this year, I wrote about the first EDPS-Ethics Advisory Group (EAG) workshop that was taking place that day as part of a broader discussion we were launching, both in the EU and globally, on the digital environment and its ethical implications.

I am delighted at the workshop’s success and the feedback we received on it. I know that the work of the Group will yield tangible results in due course.

For me the workshop was an occasion to listen, take note of a variety of views and consider the relation between ethical reflections and the work of the EDPS. It was also an occasion for experts from the wider data protection community to become more familiar with the flagship project of my institution’s third mandate.

The workshop highlighted that while the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a landmark in human rights law, its adoption is even more reason for us - data protection authorities such as the EDPS - to think about the effects of data protection in practice and ask the difficult questions that need to be considered.

The GDPR emphasises the need for an ethical reflection on the digital environment and fundamental rights: the GDPR reinforces the need for organisations to be accountable; what if we consider that accountability implies a responsibility to take ethical considerations into account as part of an organisation’s corporate social responsibility?

As much as the GDPR is designed to grapple with the realities of global, ubiquitous data in the internet era, laws generally address societal needs after innovations have been widely adopted.

While we must welcome innovation and the benefits it brings us, we must also remain committed to sustainable development, taking into account issues of inequality, human dignity and inclusiveness.

Emerging technologies inevitably have wide implications not only for security and ethics but for our definition of human dignity and the equality of individuals.

It’s because of this that the EAG was launched as part of the EDPS’ broader initiative to consider the ethical impact of the digital era since it challenges not only existing data protection principles but our values and mores as a society.

At the very least, ethics can help to keep the concrete effects of the GDPR robust. But more effective would be for individuals, organisations and society at large to take a broader approach to ensure that technology does not dictate our values.

I believe we must collectively analyse how we implement data protection principles ethically and supplement them where necessary. In our digital world, data protection cannot be the sole responsibility of data protection authorities.

As part of their mandate to explore how to ensure the integrity of our values while embracing the benefits of new technologies, the EAG met in October to discuss how ethics can contribute to a data protection regime confronted by a digital world.

The debate raised many interesting questions.

Is compliance with the GDPR, or indeed any law supporting data protection or privacy, only about avoiding harm or fault?

Does compliance offer protection to the individuals the law is designed to protect or does it simply mitigate risks for organisations? The weighing up of harm and risk also involves an ethical assessment.

The Group’s discussions emphasised the importance of complying with the GDPR but also the importance of building upon that compliance and the need to consider what goes beyond it:

  • Effective enforcement is necessary to ensure the proper application of data protection principles.  What if companies are compliant with data protection rules but are not ethical?
  • The main actors in the online environment have the power to monitor, predict and influence individuals and private lives. They also contribute to designing our public space and society. Given the breadth and width of their reach, should they be accountable on a larger scale?
  • Due to their different perspectives, the dialogue between lawyers and engineers is often lost in translation. But is this gap between law and innovation really a viable excuse from big companies? There is a need to bridge this gap. Perhaps ethics could help to bridge it.

The balance of power between individuals and big business is tipped in favour of internet giants and to hold fast to our values requires more energy and commitment today than it did before the onset of the digital age.

It is high time that technology developers and data processing actors were ethically motivated. I am confident that the EAG will contribute well-founded arguments to help us to define this motivation.

In light of this, the Group is working to identify the ethical responsibilities of online actors. The greatest challenge is to encourage long term, ethical analysis and prospective thinking towards technological innovation - a holistic approach, if you will, to the digital project.

I anticipate that the first interim report of the EAG to be published next year will be a fascinating read.

The report and videos of the first workshop on 31 May 2016 are available here.

A second EDPS-EAG workshop with experts from the scientific research community is in the planning for spring 2017.

Big Brother, Big Data and Ethics


Privacy is dead they say.

But of course it isn’t. It is well and truly alive. Regardless of how much we share on social media, in reality we are still selective about what we do share. Even online, we find ways to secure, conceal or protect ourselves whether through ad blockers, security settings, the dark web or other ways. That is privacy.

While technology and the internet influences the way we behave, there is no evidence it has diminished our values as a society. So much so, that the EU continues to uphold our fundamental rights to privacy and data protection.

As technologies and personal data become ever more intertwined, the need for an ethical reflection on our fundamental rights, technology, markets and business models is long overdue.

So I'm proud that we're initiating a worldwide debate on how to ensure the integrity of our values while embracing the benefits of new technologies.

As part of this flagship project of my independent organisation's third mandate, the Ethics Advisory Group (EAG) was launched in January 2016. With the help of this group, we intend to identify a new ethical approach in the coming years so that individuals are no longer reduced to mere data subjects in the digital environment.

At the time of publishing this blogpost, the first EDPS- EAG workshop is underway.  Experts from the data protection community are gathered together with the distinguished members of the EAG and other eminent ethics experts to explore the main concerns of the wider data protection community. The discussions today will form valuable input for the continued work of the Group.

I am honoured that so many respected people were eager to take part in today's workshop. Our venerated moderator for the day is my predecessor as European Data Protection Supervisor, Peter Hustinx. 

Leading the breakout discussion sessions are four honourable members of the EAG, Peter Burgess, Luciano Floridi, Aurélie Pols and Jeroen van den Hoven. They will invite participants to examine four areas in which the rapidly changing digital landscape requires new thinking on ethics and data protection. The two other members of the Group, Antoinette Rouvroy and Jaron Lanier will also play an active role in the debates.

1) What is digital ethics?

George Orwell warned against big brother. He didn’t realise at the time that we'd also need to pay attention to big data.

The internet has evolved such that the tracking of people’s behaviour has become routine for many intelligence agencies, not to mention an essential revenue stream for some of the most successful companies. I've said it before but it's worth emphasising: we are each more than the sum of our data and yet we are more defined by our quantified selves than ever.

Algorithms based on the data collected about us are not objective, they reflect choices about what, how and who is doing the measuring. The same can be said of their interpretation. Sometimes, decisions by state authorities or private companies are made on the basis only of what can be measured. But humans are unpredictable; we cannot be assessed by algorithm alone.  Should the efficiency that is associated with technology override fairness, dignity and the common good?  Should algorithms be subject to ethical critique?  These are, obviously, rhetorical questions, but I hope that our project will guide us in dealing in practice with the ethical consequences of technology.

2) Human dignity in the digital age

Human dignity is the cornerstone of fundamental rights. We value privacy not to hide something but because the control of our personal information is central to our sense of self.

But in a society characterised by massive data sharing, do we need to revise our notions of human dignity, privacy and personal data?

While we accept that technology transforms the norms of human behaviour, it also blurs our ability to give free and sometimes, informed consent.  How do we reconcile this?

Can we introduce moral responsibility in the vacuum created between people and automated processes such as surveillance or data collection?

3) Technology as a driver and an actor

In our technology-driven society, it is easy to get excited by the frequent novelties introduced on the digital market. But should ethical considerations determine the direction of innovation?  Should human values play a part in the development of new technologies?  Remembering the human element in innovation was certainly the message of Stephen Hawking and the Future of Life Institute in their powerful letter of January 2015.  We ignore these luminaries at our peril.

4) Ethics and the law

In Europe, privacy and data protection are separate rights sanctioned by the law.
But is it enough that a practice affecting our privacy, our personal data or both is legal?  What if the law was to be the minimum standard?  The new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) introduces the concept of accountability in EU law so to what extent should ethics play a part in this concept?

Big data is one example of how personal data is driving technologies and practices in the public and private sectors. These technologies raise profound questions not only about human rights but also about what it is to be human.

In its fourth recital the GDPR states, 'Data processing should be designed to serve mankind'. This, I argue, is an ethical sentiment to be shared around the world. With today's workshop we have begun the dissemination.

Agenda for the first EDPS-EAG Workshop.
A report from today’s meeting will be prepared and made public in due course. A second EDPS-EAG workshop with experts from the research community is in the planning.