Privacy czars urge openness in online surveillance

Governments should be more open and accountable to the public about their online surveillance activities, according to a resolution released yesterday by privacy commissioners who attended the 35th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners in Warsaw.

The organization of privacy commissioners, of which Canada holds an observer status, also released a declaration on what it called the “appification of society” placing the responsibility for ensuring tech users’ privacy on the shoulders of application developers and operating systems providers.

In light of widespread public concern over government online surveillance, the group only mentioned it in one out of the eight resolutions it released.

At the bottom of its resolution on openness of personal data practices, the privacy commissioners resolved to:

“Urge governments to be more open about their data collection practices, consistent with appropriate national security, public safety and public policy considerations, in order to enhance democratic accountability and to give effect to the fundamental right to privacy.”

An explanatory note said that recent revelations of government surveillance programs “have prompted calls for greater openness with respect to the scope of these programs, increased oversight and accountability of these programs and more transparency from private sector organizations that are required to provide personal data to governments.”

The document also noted that the United States Federal Trade Commission abstained from voting on the resolution.

The recent media attention on government online surveillance activities stem from revelations about the U.S. National Security Agency’s Prism program. The clandestine mass electronic data mining effort involves the agency demanding metadata from U.S.-based Internet and technology companies for the government’s anti-terrorism activity. Some analyst estimate that controversy over the use by intelligence operatives of so-called backdoors into security products and networks could cost the American technology sector as much as $180 million by 2016.

Since the program was leaked early this year by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, many companies who have complied with the NSA has been demanding the U.S. government to allow them disclose details of their “forced” involvement with U.S. spy agencies.

The commissioners released resolutions covering issues such as Web trafficking, privacy, profiling, international enforcement and digital education.

The declaration issued by the privacy commissioners, however, was focused on the prevalence of applications that collect large amounts of personal data. The group estimates that more than 30,000 apps are being created each day.

“This allows the continuous digital monitoring, often without the users being aware that this happens and what their data are used for,” the declaration said.

The commissioners said app developers need to ensure compliance with existing privacy and data protection rules around the world.

They also said that offering privacy settings on such things as mobile devices are “insufficiently granular to offer user control for all meaning aspects of individual data collection.”

Providers of operating systems should commit to provide “privacy seals and other enforceable certification schemes” to ensure personal data privacy and protection.




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Nestor E. Arellano
Nestor E. Arellano
Toronto-based journalist specializing in technology and business news. Blogs and tweets on the latest tech trends and gadgets.

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