Vera Jourova, Czech politician and the European Union’s justice commissioner, has said that “fundamental rights that apply offline should also apply online.” Speaking at the recent Global Law Summit, Jourova made the comments as part of the first public speech she has given in the UK since last Autumn when she accepted responsibility for matters of justice, consumer protection and gender equality.
Her priorities over the coming year, Jourova said, would be to ensure that the full potential benefits of new technologies are exploited, but that this is balance with the need for people’s rights to be recognised online in the same way they would in real life. She also called for new legislation designed to ensure that users of the internet have “more control and more choice, while future-proofing protections suitable for the digital age.” This legislation, she said, should establish a better balance between the advantages of information technology and the need to safeguard the privacy of individuals accessing the internet.
This speech formed part of a panel discussion entitled “A Digital Magna Carta and the State of Exception.” The debate was chaired by Catherine Dixon, chief executive of the Law Society.:
Jourova’s comments had the support of Anne Jellema, CEO of the World Wide Web Foundation. Jellema said: “The web has unleashed a tidal wave of innovation, but it has also created a tidal wave of data about ourselves.” When it comes to protecting individual privacy, she said, “The law is lagging behind the power of technology.” This is particularly concerning, Jellema contended, at a time when “governments are moving aggressively to expand their surveillance capacities.”
The job of winding up the debate fell to Dr Gus Hosein. Hosein, who is director of the campaign group Privacy, expressed similar sentiments. He pointed to GCHQ’s programme entitled “Squeaky Dophin,” through which it monitors activity on social media websites. Describing the current state of affairs when it comes to privacy safeguards for internet users, he said bluntly that “the present is broken.”
Despite his dim view of the present, however, Hosein remained positive about the potential outlook for the future. He pointed to the way major companies and prominent innovators such as Google are becoming more and more aware of such issues, and taking greater steps to safeguard users.
Concluding, Hosein said that users can protect themselves in three ways: “Understand the technology, demand better technology and don’t allow the internet to discriminate against you – as it does in the US, where American citizens may not be spied upon, but foreigners routinely are.”