Privacy expert discusses online security and data protection

Prof Joseph Cannataci
Prof Joseph Cannataci

As Edward Snowden's NSA revelations bring a new urgency to the debate on privacy and state security, regulations on European data protection standards recently passed through the European Parliament committee stage will make it harder for big multinational internet service providers and social media providers to transfer European data to third countries.

They would also subject them to EU law and authorize significant fines, possibly running into the billions, for not complying with the new rules.

'Online Privacy and Data Protection', an activity by the European Parliament Information Office, will be held on 15 November at the University of Malta, Lecture Theatre 1, Erin Seracino Inglott, starting at 15:00. Friday's event discussion [see Facebook] will also include the presentation of results from the EU-funded CONSENT, SMART and RESPECT research projects.

Data privacy in the EU is currently under the authority of national governments with standards varying enormously across the 28 EU countries, complicating efforts to arrive at satisfactory data privacy and protection agreements.

Professor Joseph Cannataci, who will give the lecture, explains that Europe is not just the EU-28 with 500 million inhabitants. "It's also the 820 million citizens who together make up the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, so there's a very big balancing act to perform. Most worryingly, even the new proposed EU rules are easily sidestepped by the big multinationals if matters of national security are claimed by the US."

Viviane Reding, the EU's commissioner for justice and the leading advocate in Brussels of a new system securing individuals' rights to privacy and data protection, argues that the new rulebook will rebalance the power relationship between the US and Europe on the issue, supplying leverage to force the American authorities and tech firms to reform.

"The recent data scandals prove that sensitivity has been growing on the US side of how important data protection really is for Europeans," she told a German foreign policy journal.

Cannataci agrees that the proposed draft Regulation is a step in the right direction but is far less satisfied with the proposed draft directive and does not completely share Reding's optimism as to the impact that the new DPRP could have on rebalancing the power relationship between the US and Europe.

"Studies clearly show that privacy in small places may be even more precious than in larger communities," Cannataci says about privacy in Malta.

"We have to be more protective of the privacy we have, and privacy on the internet in a small island state needs full safeguards and protection. I am very glad we will have the chance to discuss this in-depth at the University with an open house for anyone who wants to attend. This issue concerns every Maltese and Gozitan.

"The software installed by Amazon, Google or the UK's GCHQ does not discriminate between Americans, French and Maltese. It collects data and profiles all and sundry, so we have to do everything in our power to understand what we are giving away when we simply check boxes on the internet."