National Data Privacy Day more than a PR stunt

Courtesy of Florian on Flickr

Probably most days of the year are now some sort of ‘X Day,’ with some being proper cultural milestones, some Hallmark events, some propaganda exercises, some just fun and some ICT industry PR ones. Thus Friday 28th January will be for some people at least ‘National Data Privacy Day‘ – "an international celebration of the dignity of the individual expressed through personal information".

Indeed, one may yawn.

In fact, mocking aside, this event, the fifth annual Data Protection Day to promote awareness of data privacy, will also celebrate the 30th anniversary of Convention 108, considered to be the cornerstone of privacy and personal data protection in Europe.

As the Council says, "Worldwide recognition of the fundamental right to the protection of personal data becomes crucial for the development and sustainability of any democratic society and serves as an additional guarantee for the effective exercise of other fundamental rights and freedoms."

The Europe angle is significant, by the way, as 28th January is the date on which the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data was signed into law by the Council of Europe in 1981. Its convention is currently in the process of being up-dated in order to reflect new legal challenges caused by technological development.

The Convention on Cybercrime is also protecting the integrity of data systems and thus of privacy in cyberspace. And in fact the day is set to culminate in a high level meeting in Brussels between the Council of Europe and the European Commission, who will join forces to promote this fundamental issue as well as initiate a review into the modernisation of Convention 108 and make it fit for the 21st century.

In the US, the House and Senate passed resolutions recognising the day, which is also marked in Canada as well as Europe. In the UK the Day, sponsored by Intel, Microsoft and Visa, does have a sensible aim; to highlight the benefits of applying a high-value approach to data protection. As the organisers say, "In this networked world, in which we are thoroughly digitised, with our identities, locations, actions, purchases, associations, movements, and histories stored as so many bits and bytes, we have to ask – who is collecting all of this – what are they doing with it – with whom are they sharing it?"

All valid points, and surely none of us can disagree with the further sentiment that, "Most of all, individuals are asking ‘How can I protect my information from being misused?’ These are reasonable questions to ask – we should all want to know the answers."

The event suggests that in actuality it’s going to be the users who will do this, though – not the suppliers or any governments. The day is all about the promotion, therefore, of awareness and education among teens and young adults, focusing on the privacy issues raised by the use of social networking sites, cell phones, BlackBerrys, online gaming, and other online activities and mobile devices.

Data Privacy Day events and activities are also trying to "stimulate the development of technology tools to promote individual control over personally identifiable information; encourage compliance with privacy laws and regulations; and create dialogues among parties interested in advancing data privacy and protection".

So let’s celebrate DPD, look to see what the legislators will do – but be aware that ultimately, making sure this data is ours and remains so means we as electronic citizens and consumers need to take more ownership of the problem.

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