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Technology marches on – Is data protection standing still?

metamworks © adobestock, 2020
The pace of change is relentless. Technological advances continue to have an ever-greater impact on our daily lives. European Data Protection Day on 28 January is a chance to remember the growing need for robust personal data safeguards to ensure we all benefit from greater digitalisation.

One area that is exciting many people is the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and big data. They promise to transform our lives fundamentally.

But with benefits come risks. And this is something FRA is drawing attention to. It aims to identify potential pitfalls for policymakers as they seek ways to govern the use of such technologies.

Facial recognition technology can be socially useful, but it has to be used properly. This means respecting fundamental rights, including data protection.

As our recent paper pointed out, when using facial recognition technology we need to consider whether there is a clear need for processing facial images. In other words, could the same be achieved some other way?

Big data refers to new technological developments for collecting, storing, analysing and applying large volumes of data, often from various sources, including the internet.

With more and more data available, new and improved technologies for analysis have also emerged. These include machine learning and AI.

AI and machine learning are leading to automated decision making. This can speed up decisions, limit bureaucracy and deliver fasting results from insurance to job-hunting. In healthcare, there are even reports of AI outperforming radiologists.

Globalised storage and processing of personal information and bulk access to data may infringe our data protection and privacy rights.

Already the EU’s new data protection rules provide a solid basis.

They offer robust and forward-looking personal data safeguards, as technological frontiers expand.

They also advocate a data minimalism approach. In essence, firms and governments should only ask for data they really need rather than what they can get.

Not only that, the European Commission and the Council of Europe are exploring what kind of regulation we may need to guide us in this most sensitive of areas.

FRA participates in the discussions to ensure that fundamental rights standards form a key part of any future laws and policies.

In this way, the enjoyment of fundamental rights across Europe moves ahead in step with technological change.