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Same issues, different perspectives: overcoming policy silos in privacy and data protection

Page history last edited by Mary Murphy 9 years, 5 months ago



Moderator: Vladimir Radunovic, DiploFoundation and the GIP
Brian Trammell, Senior Researcher, Communication Systems Group, ETH Zurich
Nick Ashton-Hart, Executive Director, Internet & Digital Ecosystem Alliance (IDEA) 
Amb. Thomas Hajnoczi, Permanent Mission of Austria to the United Nations, Geneva
Carly Nyst, Legal Director, Privacy International




The omnipresence of the Internet in modern society makes most Internet policy issues transversal. For example, cybercrime cannot be addressed only as a security issue or e-commerce only as trade issue. Yet, a transversal approach is more an exception than a common practice in Internet governance. This session will discuss ways and means of introducing a transversal approach using the example of data protection and privacy, addressed from standardisation, human rights, diplomatic, security, and business perspectives.


Session notes


Bridging gaps – better communication for a more effective internet governance approach


After a short introduction by Vladimir Radunović of DiploFoundation and the GIP, where he presented the panellists, participants were asked to separate according to their interests: engineering, economics, human rights aspects, and political and diplomacy aspects.


The human rights and the politics groups turned out to be the largest. Some people found themselves between different groups and were asked for their motivation in not choosing clearly. One participant explained that she was at ease with human rights issues, but that also technology and the technical aspects seemed to be interesting for her. The engineering group found no interested participants at first. The human rights and politics groups were quite mixed whereas economics and engineering were clearly separated. Most government representatives were found in the human rights and politics groups. The workshop continued with each of the panellists explaining their points of view.


Carly Nyst, Legal Director at Privacy International, opened the discussion. She began by stating that there is a large difference between the post-Snowden era and the pre-Snowden one. Before Snowden, it was mainly digital rights organisations working on the subject, with a few human rights organisations. Data protection as a regulatory issue was discussed in regional contexts such as the European Union (EU), being more about regulation and less a question of human rights. Post-Snowden, there was a dramatic shift. The Human Rights Council responded very quickly to the event and a lot of resolutions and panels ensued. Today’s mainstream human rights discussions are focused on intelligence and therefore on big countries supervising people, but in reality it’s not only them, so one challenge for the future would be to consider other actors as well.


Brian Trammel, Senior Researcher at the Communication Systems Group of ETH Zurich, explained the role of the engineering community in the issues of data protection and privacy. Trammel began with the evolution of these fields and a presentation of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Data protection and privacy became especially important with the Internet boom that began in 1996, as the problem of uniformity of the use of Internet all around the world gave rise to. He also spoke about the Snowden attack on the Internet architecture, but he stayed positive in saying that he believes in the existence of engineering solutions even if, of course, there is still a lot of work to do.


Before introducing the next speaker, Radunović stressed the fact that Trammel mostly spoke about privacy and data protection related to the connection to the Internet by one computer rather than the connection between computers. He also called participants’ attention to the fact that it is not easy for different communities to understand each other’s perspectives, and gave the example of the engineering and political communities.


Ambassador Thomas Hajnoczi from the Permanent Mission of Austria to the United Nations in Geneva was asked about gaps at national level in privacy protection. He offered that, at national level, there are many services such as legal services, the Ministry of the Interior, or the Ministry of Communication, who all have different positions to start with. These services have to bring their positions and interests together, but it doesn’t stop there. At international level, there are different entities. International institutions do not talk enough to each other. So the question we have to ask is how to improve this. Finally he pointed out the advantage of conferences, i.e., bringing people from different areas together.


In this context Radunović underlined the importance of language and the use of acronyms and abbreviations. 


Nick Ashton-Hart, Executive Director of the Internet & Digital Ecosystem Alliance spoke about the negotiations on trading services at the World Trade Organization (WTO) that took place in Geneva some months before the Snowden revelations. He stressed that ICT services was the area least covered as it was quite new for the trade world. We have to keep in mind that it is a new subject but politically sensitive. According to Ashton-Hart, privacy can never be protected enough ‘to make everybody happy’. There are difficulties at different levels: a difficult discussion at the international level as well as a fragmentation problem at the national one. It is important to find a balance between the engagement of industry, ministries, and public participation.



Participants then divided into four groups and were asked to brainstorm on the four topics presented, each of which related to bridging gaps. There were lively discussions in all of the groups, including a great interest from remote participants. This was followed by a summary presented by each panellist.


Ashton-Hart spoke for the first group and presented seven points, among which the difference between countries and the importance of having coordination between governments as well as the need to improve coordination in the Geneva environment or, in other words, some concrete measures from the Geneva office. This group also discussed how IG is handled within different national governments, for example, whether or not there are special departments for Internet-related issues.


In Nyst’s group, the main topic was the expansion of a common understanding of not only what privacy is but also of how far privacy should go and be protected. She also mentioned the need for balance between different states and different actors as well as the human rights contribution, among others.


Trammel’s group addressed the issue of communication between engineers and non-engineers. Even though there has been more participation in meetings lately, there is a communication problem between engineers and politicians or diplomats. In both worlds a lot of acronyms and abbreviations are used, which sometimes have more than one meaning. This problem should be addressed from the outset, if IG is to become more effective.


Finally, Hajnoczi and the remote participants discussed regional cooperation and the problem of a different data protection philosophy in different regions (especially between Europe and the USA) as well as variables that can affect communications and privacy-related problems, such as language or cultural background. In order to find a solution, it is most important to create common standards. What is shown by the Council of Europe’s Data Protection Convention is that many countries have started focusing more on data protection issues.


Summarising the workshop, it was shown how important not only collaboration is, but also the major role a common understanding plays in IG-related issues. 


Comments (1)

GICspeaker said

at 9:25 pm on Dec 7, 2014

From Nick Ashton-Hart:
In my initial comments "trading services" should be "trade in services" and the talks began before Snowden, but are continuing; these are the TISA negotiations. My comment above "privacy can never be protected enough ‘to make everybody happy’." is not really what I said; I said that privacy was approached very differently by different societies and the result was that global services were in a lose/lose situation as no matter what protections were in force they would not make everyone happy and that we ought to aim for interoperability of privacy systems rather than harmonization as the latter wasn't likely to lead to agreement.

On my summary for the working group, I actually said that there were a multitude of fora where privacy was discussed and that there was a lack of coordination between ministries at the national level, between international processes at the international level, and between the two levels and that a mechanism that made it easier to see what was happening where and how to participate in those relevant would help everyone. I also summarised several points, as was mentioned; I think all of those should be included in bullet form at least.