Thursday 16 October 2014

Muses from Mauritius

No, I’m not in Mauritius at the international conference of data protection and privacy commissioners.

I have, however, been following some of the proceedings on the internet. The conference organisers helpfully realised that not all interested parties would be able to travel to the tropical paradise island of Mauritius, so they provided a live webcast.

The usual suspects are in attendance, including a strong contingent from the UK, led by Commissioner Christopher Graham, the mighty Eduardo Ustaran and the GSMA’s privacy guru, Pat Walshe. All are suitably dressed for a formal business occasion.  No shorts or T-shirts in sight. Despite the fact that the beach is so close. They are evidently taking the event very seriously.

The conference's colourful logo is quite apt. In just a few strokes, the illustrators have drawn the national bird of Mauritius, the dodo. Let's hope that the challenges of an ever richer data environment won't overwhelm citizens and destroy their trust in data controllers, in the same way that a new environment overwhelmed the dodo. 

Here are my favourite conference quotes:

“Milk expires – and so does data.”

“We are not in a completely safe and sustainable privacy world.”

“There are a lot of analogies between chemistry and big data.”

[Especially] in the context of big data, we need an efficient and effective provision of public services.”

“My biggest concern is the concept of digital pre-destination - where the data defines who we are going to be, rather than we allowing ourselves to be who we are going to be.”

“How do you build ethics into algorithms? – should your driverless car kill you to save 2 other people? After all, eventually, smart cars will know how many passengers are in each car.”

[In relation to the problems faced over the past decade by data protection officers and regulators with respect to addressing issues relating to transparency and new technologies] everything old is new again.”

“My children were programming code before they were allowed to use steak knives at the kitchen table. That shows you my approach to risk management.”

[Said a former data protection regulator to fellow regulators] You will never reach your destination if you throw stones at every dog that barks.”

“Accountability - we don't even know how to translate that in French.”

For many, perhaps, the most significant remark of today was made by one of the conference organisers: 

“The venue for this evening’s rum cocktail has moved, from Sugar Mountain to the fountain.”