The pandemic has increased privacy risks

The pandemic has increased privacy risks

From biometric surveillance to online violence up to the strengthening of the role of algorithms: the Privacy Guarantor takes stock of the dangers to our data that have worsened in 2020

Pasquale Stanzione, Privacy Guarantor, during the annual report of the Guarantor Authority for personal data in the Sala della Regina of the Chamber of Deputies, Rome, 2 July 2021. (Photo: Ansa / Riccardo Antimiani / Guarantor press office) That in recent months there has been talk of privacy in the newspapers and in public debate like never before in Italy is evident to all. It started with Immuni and recently ended with the qr code of the Green Pass and with the controversy over the Io app, which was then resolved. Covid-19 has imposed a new legislative normality made up of decrees by the Prime Minister, all in the context of the pandemic alert. The emergency should be momentary by nature, but the pandemic has shown us that this momentary nature can be lengthened by a lot. And this is one of the cornerstones of the annual report by the president of the Italian Data Protection Authority, Pasquale Stanzione.

The boundary between derogation and absence of norms

“The persistence of the pandemic he taught to live with the limitations of rights, however tracing the boundary that separates the derogation from the anomie (absence of norms, ed), demonstrating how democracy must always be able to fight with one hand behind its back. But that of liberal democracy against authoritarian drifts is a victory to be renewed day by day, never taking it for granted, as Europe has done, which has shown, even on this occasion, that it knows how to combine, without opposing them, freedom and solidarity, escaping to the temptation of the technocratic shortcuts of bio-surveillance, ”said Stanzione.

It is a theme, that of fundamental and founding rights in Europe, which also returns in the confrontation with China, "with its dangerous alliance between computing power and coercive power, of which the social credit system and facial recognition (even "emotional") are an emblematic example ", observed Stanzione, and with the United States, which with the Schrems II case demonstrated how" privacy requires "objective" protection, which does not end in negotiation phase left to the sole availability of the parties, but requires effective publicistic protections ".

The capitalism of platforms

Another point of the speech of the Guarantor touched on the platforms with a reference to that "surveillance capitalism" told in the homonymous essay by Shoshana Zuboff. Not only a question of privacy, therefore, but also of control that the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act intend to reduce and regulate. Faced with the difficulty of opening the black boxes of the algorithm that regulate the platforms, the Guarantor stressed the need to adequately inform citizens about their functioning, as recently reiterated by the Court of Cassation.

The Guarantor then underlined how despite the positive effects of digital, especially in this pandemic year, it is necessary not to abuse the technological tools at our disposal. On the one hand, therefore, the opportunity to think of a right to disconnect for workers, on the other hand the risk for students of being constantly and excessively monitored during remote teaching lessons (so-called proctoring) or exams.

No to data monetization

While acknowledging the intrinsic value of data, such that the "service-for-data negotiation exchange" has become the norm for over a decade, "recognizing the possibility of the remuneration of consent risks determining a re-feudalization of social relations, admitting that one can pay with one's data and, therefore, with one's freedom ”, said Stanzione.

This is a very topical issue both in Italy, with the flourishing of several new operators who offer themselves as mediators between citizens and businesses for the use of their data, and in Europe where in November the proposal for a regulation for a Data governance act, to encourage the reuse and exchange of data, including personal data, between public and private and between companies. The risk, however, is, as pointed out by the Guarantor, of favoring a society in which privacy is only a right accessible to the few who can afford it economically, while all the others will be tempted to "sell" their data for an immediate economic benefit. .

No to mass surveillance

As confirmed by the European guarantors and requested by a European citizens' campaign, the Italian Guarantor also reiterated its firm position against the use of biometric and facial recognition technologies, especially when used by law enforcement, when not delimited by appropriate safeguards. Otherwise, in fact, the use of this technology is "more suitable than others to degenerate into forms of mass surveillance". Also thanks to the stop of the Guarantor from the use of Sari, the live facial recognition software used by the police, and the fact that in Italy there is still no law that determines the limits of use of these technologies by the police, a discussion on the subject has just begun in parliament, a discussion even more necessary given the wide exceptions provided for in the proposed European regulation on artificial intelligence.

In the last year, the Guarantor has spent a lot of money on the protection of minors. From requests for clarification to platforms on the age control of users to attention to the issues of non-consensual dissemination of intimate images and cyberbullying.

If the Guarantor therefore did everything possible to also offer practical tools to the victims, such as the possibility of easily reporting on their website the publication of photos without consent, he however recalled the importance of "promoting a real pedagogy digital and make effective the responsibility for the illicit contents disseminated. " The Guarantor revealed that the data on the protection of minors are not at all reassuring given that "in 2020 there was an increase of about 132%, compared to 2019 in the cases handled by the National Center for the fight against child pornography and an increase in 77% of child victimization cases due to grooming, cyber bullying, digital identity theft, sextorsion. 68% of adolescents appear to have witnessed cases of cyberbullying in 2020 ”.

The protection of minors and the most vulnerable people, often not fully aware of the functioning of the tools they use, has guided the Guarantor's action to prevent "democracy from degenerating, in other words, into algocracy" .

Cybercrime and data breach

Even on the side of cyber attacks, there is no good news. Also due to a greater dependence on digital with the pandemic and the increase in teleworking, "in the first quarter of 2021, 349 computer crimes have already occurred in Italy, up 47% compared to 2020, including data theft in 70% of cases. During the year, over 1387 data breaches were notified to the Guarantor, some of which are particularly relevant for the type of data, including health data, exfiltrated or for the number of interested parties. The Security Information Department recorded in 2020, in Italy, a general increase in attacks (+ 20%), targeting public entities in 83% of cases ".

In summary, for the Guarantor we must not think of privacy as an obstacle, "but as a competitive advantage for the country-system and, at the same time, a prerequisite for legitimizing public action", and in this the Authority hopes "to continue to be the central institution for democracy that Stefano Rodotà had imagined".

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