Jim's Polka

The life of a former software engineer, now a law student

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

CFP 2005: Government CPOs and Privacy in Europe

Actually, those were two separate panels. I don't really have enough to justify separate posts on both, though, so I'm combining.

Also, before I go on, if you're more interested in the RFID passports panel, The Practical Nomad was also at the panel and has a much better summary.

Moving along to the government CPO (Chief Privacy Officer) panel. The question for the panel was whether a CPO is any use in terms of actually protecting privacy. Given that all the panelists were government privacy officers of some kind, it's not surprising that the answer was yes. Their reasons are convincing enough, though. They see their role as providing a focus for privacy issues within the organization. The idea is pretty new, so they haven't made much progress, but I think that making someone accountable for this kind of thing should help at least a little bit. Of course, that's only true so far as the agency as a whole is willing to go along, and not all of them are. Homeland Security, for example, doesn't have one yet. But, at least the woman from the Postal Service seemed to be having an impact.

Following that was a panel called "Terrorising Privacy". Their topic was privacy issues in Europe. The panelists said a lot of interesting things, but the number one thing to take away from the panel was that Europe is actually much worse at protecting privacy than the US. They attributed that to a lack of a strong civil society (in the form of NGOs applying pressure). There's no independent funding available for those groups, so the people who run them are basically doing it in their spare time. I've heard about the problem of lack of private philanthropy in Europe for funding museums; this seems to be another side of the same issue. The lack of civil society means that where groups in the US complain loudly about government taking on new surveillance powers, the same laws don't get any objection at all in Europe.