'Digital age underscores need to protect human privacy'

In a world driven by data, notably in the digital format, culture and ethics must be at the heart of any debate on protecting a human's privacy, before seeing it as a technical or legal issue, said the participants at a creative forum here.

IANS| Updated: Sep 26, 2014, 13:25 PM IST

Paris: In a world driven by data, notably in the digital format, culture and ethics must be at the heart of any debate on protecting a human's privacy, before seeing it as a technical or legal issue, said the participants at a creative forum here.

Likening the current debate over data privacy and ethics to one on the uses of personal DNA in the 1990s, the participants at a meeting of Forum d' Avignon, a think tank on culture, said every individual has the right to have his personal data protected.

"It is the responsibility of every state to enforce in an ethical framework, regulations in compliance with its culture. Our digital DNA, our privacy and cultural values deserve this ethical dynamics," the forum said after its 7th global meeting this month.

The discussions focused on four issues: Ethics, fairness, transparency of the state and public authorities with regard to sharing of data, and the opening-up of networks, and infrastructures to make towns and cities even smarter.

The forum, which saw interventions from the Indian side by poet, song writer and media expert Amit Khanna and writer Sidharth Bhatia, among others, said a similar debate in the 1990s had resulted in the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome in 1997.

The forum said the corporate world has an obligation as well. "Companies have everything to win in terms of reputation and competitive advantages, by showing transparency or, at least, an involvement on data confidentiality and security," it said.

Forum d' Avignon, along with civil society stakeholders had organised a series of six community awareness campaigns since December 2012 including collective writing sessions. This resulted in proposals from over 100 people to be made public in www.ddhn.org.

"Digital society invites us to contain its power so that individuals won't be enslaved," said Jean-Paul Delevoye, president of the Social, economic and environmental council, who read the preliminary declaration at the closing session of the forum meeting.

As the next step forward, the forum wants governments across the globe to be involved in the cultural and ethical stakes of data. It also wants Unesco to add it to the works of its Global Commission about ethics for scientific knowledge and technologies.

The forum has also pushed for a concrete proposal toward the definition of a universal, proactive and ethical framework -- one that strikes a balance among research, economic growth, social development and protection of personal data.

The forum said even as its wishes were ambitious, they were realistic as well. It also said the proposals were neither regulatory, allowing each state to form its own laws based on its culture, nor purely technical.

The forum also came out with a preliminary declaration of digital human rights that says personal data can't be reduced to a commodity and that there's the need for a universal code of ethics to protect an individual’s dignity, privacy, creative works and opinion.