Isabelle Servoz-Gallucci – pre-conference interview

Isabelle Servoz-Gallucci is the Head of the Data Protection Unit and the Secretary of the Convention 108 Committee. See the full speaker’s profile here.

From your point of view, what are the priority challenges for data protection in the years to come? 

There are certainly many, and from various perspectives. The momentum is marked by the gloom and uncertainties due to the international situation and of course the war in the East of Europe. There’s also the economic and financial crises, the climate change and the environmental issues, which impact the daily lives of many people all over the world also in relation to the deterioration of social cohesion or health systems. This has implications for human rights and fundamental freedoms, which includes the right to privacy and data protection. At the Council of Europe, we have an utmost responsibility collectively and individually to ensure that human rights that are applicable offline are and continue to be applicable online as well. While acknowledging the positive potential of new technologies, there is an urgent need to regulate digital developments and biotechnologies and their use in such a way as to mitigate risks of misuse that might threaten human rights, democracy and the rule of law. There is indeed a strong temptation to introduce measures restricting our rights and freedoms and to resort too conveniently to surveillance technologies that could get to unwise processing of personal data. This is also linked to the fast-paced digitalisation of society and the inexorable imposition by the digital technology giants of the use of information and communication technologies in all our actions and interactions in everyday life, at the risk of leaving aside many citizens around the world. While the digitalisation of our societies and the use of artificial intelligence have many positive aspects, they present many risks that should not be underestimated both for the respect of our privacy and for our individual and societal security. Any multilateral framework which strengthens the protection of this right could and should play an essential role in safeguarding our values, our democracies. Safeguards exist and have to be applied. Laws must be enforced and their application better supervised. Therefore, there’s an urgent need to have the Council of Europe modernised Convention for the protection of individuals with regard to processing of personal data (known as ‘Convention 108+’) entering into force, to better preserve human rights and freedoms and better guarantee the security of data and infrastructure. This implies that we move away from an all-digital and all-connected world for a more differentiated approach, creating non-discriminatory or non-dissuasive alternatives. 

How important is international cooperation to address these challenges and ensure data protection and privacy? 

International cooperation is a fundamental element, a tool to ensure coherence, harmonisation and potentially the development of  common vision and implementation of provisions of those legally binding instruments working at preserving and promoting the protection of personal data of individuals and their right to privacy. The Council of Europe, with Convention 108, has set the only international, multilateral legally binding instrument on the protection of privacy and personal data, which now gathers 55 Parties and some 40 observers from all over the world, thus demonstrating the Organisation’s long-standing, specific, precursor and standard-setting role in the digital agenda. This is about regulatory convergence, which also means a good and effective cooperation on the ground, and notably among data protection authorities. 

This is what Convention 108 and its modernised version ‘Convention 108+’, offers : States Parties to Convention 108+ will get tremendous benefits due to the mutual co-operation foreseen in building a free data transfer area while ensuring the highest level of data protection to individuals as well as a perfect compliance with international standards. This is not only about demonstrating a high level of data protection but also being able to rely on a strong network of peer states able to provide assistance, advice and support. The network of supervisory authorities that will be created by Convention 108+ offers an essential tool for enforcement cooperation. 

Do you observe fundamental changes and evolutions in the domain of personal data protection and its perception? 

The ever increasing digitisation of the world creates both opportunities – the  promise of a better tomorrow for our economies and societies – and challenges. Data protection have an essential role to play here to ensure that the new technologies bring new opportunities rather than troubles and problems. Need to build trust. One can see the progressive rise of a growing consciousness of the importance of the right to privacy. The involvement of various actors at levels, countries, intergovernmental organisations, civils society at national and international levels, more and more demonstrate they have a common goal to promoting the need for a responsible use of technology, ensuring the respect for privacy. One can observe, notably due to ever growing tensions in geopolitics, the importance of a specific dimension of the right to privacy, that is: to protect our values, our democratic systems, our fundamental stand on which our societies are built including the acceptance of differences. It does not consist only in the exercise of drafting the perfect definition of “proportionality” between like-minded countries and jurisdictions but how to defend it from other perceptions, interpretations and implementation which Europe has so well known in the past. Almost every un-democratic development even today starts by the cutting back on the right to privacy, so while fighting for strong and stable privacy regimes, we also fight for our values. 

Why conferences such as the Privacy Symposium are important and how can they support data protection? 

The Privacy Symposium thanks to its scope and worldwide coverage, is a place to recall that privacy is fundamental to preserve our rights and freedom and contribute to building bridges between democracy, human rights and technology. It helps promoting all the actors to promote and develop or modernise laws based on a number of fundamental elements: a horizontal framework, which could ensure a faster convergence between different legal frameworks, a set of generally accepted data protection principles, accountability, effective individual rights and independent supervision. 

This is a place for exchange of experiences, best practices and models, development of synergies – all this contributes to global convergence. 

Would you have any advice or recommendation to share with data protection professionals and/or data subjects? 

  • In the constant goal to create a better future, make sure that human dignity and personal autonomy are guaranteed through the right of the individual to have effective control over their personal data, and control over how they are processed. 
  • Promote respect for privacy and protection of personal data as a way to contribute to the free flow of information. 
  • Education and awareness of digital technology and the use of information and communication technologies for all segments of the population must be developed and highlighted so that everyone can regain control of their private lives, become more critical and decide freely, responsibly and knowingly about their actions without their decisions affecting the choice of others. 
  • Encourage the national authorities to join Convention 108+ as this is a response/a landmark instrument guaranteeing human beings’ position as subject and not mere objects of algorithmic deduction, control or surveillance. It is a viable tool to facilitate international data transfers also in the public sector while guaranteeing an appropriate level of protection for individuals globally. It is a bridge between legal regimes and continents. The Convention places a protective blanket around people/individuals whose personal information would otherwise be at greater risk while supporting innovation with a better transborder flow regime.