“The spirit of the regulation is to allow people to freely express their ideas and practices in a free, fair manner, preventing discrimination – negative and positive alike – regarding the right to profess their faith”, said Giovanni Buttarelli, European Data Protection Supervisor <https://edps.europa.eu/>, who provided an overview of the European Regulation on the protection of personal data (GDPR) in the light of the present challenges and the implications for the Catholic Church.
Which changes will the new regulation bring about in the Church?
The Catholic Church, just as other European institutions, can only benefit from the GDPR, which meets three specific needs. First of all, the harmonization of regulations at EU level; the evolution of new technologies, which can offer solutions for the future without being limited to paper archives of a bygone past; finally, it places the human person at the centre of this protection, notably his dignity, which is the object of a specific legislative area. For the first time the regulation makes specific reference to religious confessions, whose internal regulations must comply with the civil legislative framework. No one could draw greater benefits from this than the Catholic Church.
The Church in Germany has incorporated these set of regulations in a very rigorous manner. For example, in Freiburg the faith community is informed on live-streaming services from the Cathedral and believers are given the opportunity to participate in the liturgy from the aisle or from the central rear rows that are not captured by the video cameras’ field of vision.
Is it an excess of scruple or are such precautions necessary also during religious celebrations?
Germany has a rigorous focus on the issue of personal data protection, which also derives from experiences of espionage from East Germany. This solution must not necessarily be an object of regulation, it could also simply be considered within the context of good practices. At general level, the right to profess a religion is connected with the freedom of expression, which includes the right to not display religious affiliation in public. In the Italian State expressing personal affiliation to the Catholic Church is not as problematic, while elsewhere this aspect could be subjected to diverse sensitivities.
We should not think that the ideal prospect is a rigorous interpretation of these norms.
It’s enough to inform users that a given service will be recorded or broadcast via video streaming, so as to allow them to decide as they please.
What changes in terms of practices in parishes or in schools? Many schools are worried, for example, about the use of children’s pictures … These are urban legends that have been circulating for decades. These concerns are not grounded in the legislative framework. Italian Authorities had to reiterate on several occasions that the Regulation does not prohibit school pictures because
socialization inside a school community is part and parcel of the right to the formation of personality. Those who don’t want to appear in class photos will miss an important opportunity. The idea that class pictures or Christmas photos of children should be supervised by the ‘office for complication of otherwise simple affairs’ makes me smile.
What is the state of GDPR adoption in Europe?
Almost all Countries have adopted the first set of regulations. Seven are nearing completion, regulations have been adopted but they are not yet operational.
The picture is overall satisfactory but not optimal.
Every Country has signalled critical situations: Germany in terms of consensus, Spain with regard to propaganda carried out by political parties, Romania as relates to access to journalistic sources, etc. These regulations will be subjected to EU scrutiny to provide guidance to member Countries in their enforcement. The success of this European regulation is to speak to the rest of the world with a single voice.
Is there a risk of a bureaucratization of the regulation?
Indeed, we are witnessing an exasperation of formal protection also in the exercise of rights. In some contexts the content of the regulation is overlooked, giving priority to the principle of defence from possible controversies.
After the Cambridge Analytica case, has the danger level risen with regard to privacy on social networks?
Cambridge Analytica has shaken public conscience. It’s the tip of an iceberg, nothing will be the way it was before.
Now the sanctioning procedures will be completed, sending a loud and clear message.
Some social networks, Facebook in particular, were affected not so much in terms of stock exchange listing or of a declined number of users, but in terms of a decreased level of confidence that is critical to the development of these platforms.
What form of protection will be given to citizens’ personal privacy and to guarantee the non-interference of other Countries in the upcoming European elections?
National elections are planned for 2019 in 13 Member Countries in addition to the European elections. There are major concerns that fake news, online manipulation and non-transparent use of algorithms and profiling systems may influence the principle of fairness of means. A new regulation that reinforces those adopted so far, stepping up cooperation between national authorities and their European counterparts to dissipate all doubts on undue influence in the use of social networks, will be enforced by February next.
We can’t reinstate the era of political forums but all those who use smartphones to communicate or avail themselves of pseudo-free text messaging services can be objects of profiling based on the covert monitoring of all their words to deliver targeted messages, as has happened during the Brexit vote and in the latest US elections. The upcoming round of elections is vital for the future of Europe. There must be no doubts regarding fair and transparent elections.Some fear that the huge amount of sensitive data stored by internet giants is the real business at stake and that ultimately the influence of these companies could be greater than that of the States.
Already today a large part of the members of the so-called GAFA group (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) have the opportunity to exercise greater powers compared to those of States. The amount of information in their possession and the level of penetration into people’s private lives is higher than that of a many secret services put together at global level. It is no coincidence that some European Countries have decided to appoint an “ambassador” in the Silicon Valley, almost as if to recognize it as a highly-evolved industrial State. The balancing of interests discussed today will have greater strategic value in the future when, as of 2020, China could gain access at world level. This phenomenon could be delayed for reasons related to language, but the market potentials of that Country are such that they could disrupt the cards on the table. Putin said that whoever has the possibility of handling and processing information in the short run will have won
The richest companies are those whose goal is to gather information, currently accumulated for purposes that will be revealed tomorrow.
Preserving information has become strategic for the future, given that any public or private institution could rely on other parties in order to reach out to a given market share or a specific target group. We must face the problem of digital dividend or the question of asymmetrical civil and commercial relations which is presently seriously unbalanced. The abuse of dominant power is more than evident.
After Huawei CFO’s arrest there is a growing risk that great high-tech manufacturers may collect sensitive data user data through operating systems and Apps. The circumstances whereby some devices could have been designed so as to collect user data is reason for growing concerns. Notwithstanding the sanctions for relations with Iran, the major problem is the principle of confidentiality and communication integrity. These companies should immediately clarify that personal communications of the users of their devices has never been tapped in any way or form. At the beginning of the Clinton administration US intelligence services proposed the so-called “Clipper chip” that delivered such solution for laptops. The system was rejected because it was considered incompatible with a democracy.