PIL Talks! 9 June on individual privacy and surveillance

Unlimited Security: How to Balance Individual Privacy Against Surveillance For the Greater Good? 

The modern digital society is one of seemingly unrestricted freedoms but also one of seemingly unrestricted threats. The digital society offers on the one hand a greater potential for exercising the freedom of expression, for private communication, and for securing communication (through encryption for instance). On the other hand, it unleashes security threats through direct network attacks, shadow networks, and through the promotion of terrorist speech and activity. Against this backdrop states have moved to protect the public from threats, actual and perceived, with highly controversial data gathering and retention policies, and through both targeted and mass surveillance and equipment interference.

The Snowden revelations increased awareness in society about what digital technologies offer in terms of surveillance and control. The scale of mass surveillance by governments through, for example, the bulk collection of metadata and the monitoring of social media shocked even the most well informed individuals. Whereas the internet and (mobile) communication already create huge data volumes, an unprecedented amount of data is generated in what is commonly referred to as the ‘Internet of Things’. The Internet can be accessed anytime, anywhere via smart devices such as phones and tablets, and gradually more objects become connected to the Internet. The Internet of Things connects not only computing devices but all kinds of ordinary objects that are increasingly equipped with IP addresses, such as books, smart meters, clothes, connected cars and so forth. Consequently, more and more features are accessible anytime and anywhere, and increasingly connect anything in a process of almost unlimited data generation.

All these data might help intelligence agencies and law enforcement to defend security, but security measures can exceed the boundaries of the rule of law and infringe disproportionately on democratic values such as privacy. Arguments that are based on privacy or other type of encroachment of fundamental rights, values or humanity considerations are often dismissed as naïve, unrealistic or even dangerous. In the ever increasing desire to combat the risk society in the ever increasing risks that are put onto society (such as through internet technology), the Security paradigm, invoked to protect the ‘Greater Good’, marginalizes alternative arguments and values that also point to the protection of the ‘Greater Good’. How do we navigate this dilemma? What is the role of the state? And of Europe, or the UN?

It is questions like these and others that are discussed during the next PIL Talks! @VU, taking place on Thursday 9 June at 17.15, in the open Concilium area of the Law Faculty (Initium building, 2nd floor). For more information, contact Marieke de Hoon.

The PIL Talks! discussions are open for all to attend, whether you want to stop by to listen in or want to be engaged in the discussion more actively. Some drinks will be provided but you are free to also bring your own. The pitches that will kick off this discussion are given by Rob van der Hoven van Genderen, who will defend his PhD dissertation on this very topic on 10 June at 9.45 at the VU, Ilina Georgieva who researches investigations of internet crimes at Leiden University’s eLaw Center, Mistale Taylor who researches data protection and extraterritoriality at Utrecht University, and Tijmen Wisman who focuses on data protection  and privacy at the VU Internet Law section.