Benoît Thieulin, chairman of the National Digital Council and CEO of La Netscouade, a social media agency
Alternatives Economiques n° 330 – 11/27/2013
Digital technology offers an unprecedented freedom of expression, empowering citizens and allowing Internet users to influence political, economic and social life. Over and beyond the web, it is part of our everyday life: we use geolocation to find our way, enjoy free email service with unlimited storage, download apps for selecting a restaurant, read e-books, and use smart devices to lower our energy consumption, improve our well-being and enhance our sport performances.
In return, these new services require our personal data to operate properly. It is a gross understatement to say that trust plays a vital role in user/device relations. Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald’s revelations have lifted the veil on the constant tracking, storage and analyze of peoples’ activities. They cast doubt on the reasons behind data processing and stir up fears of large-scale, systematic abuse that would be detrimental to citizens, economies, States and to democracy itself.
Digital technology must not lead to a society where surveillance is cheap and omnipresent, rather than targeted, sector-based and the exception. France should be aware of its historical role in this area. Publication of the whistleblowing article « Safari ou la chasse aux Français » did not lead to criminal prosecution of its authors, but rather to the 1978 Data Protection Act.
Today we stand at the crossroads. The transition to the digital era is under threat from mistrust and a pervasive atmosphere of paranoia. The fear of being watched always lead to self-censorship by both individuals and companies, as witnessed in the shutdown of the encrypted messaging service Lavabit. This acts as a roadblock to the web-based innovation of entrepreneurs, geeks, bloggers and activists.
Edward Snowden had the courage to remind us of the risks of an unregulated surveillance society. Following the example of individuals such as Philippe Lemoine, we must act. Individuals, politicians and international cooperation must ensure that the Internet remains a place of entrepreneurship and freedom of expression. Instead of placing Edward Snowden under house arrest, it would have been more useful to ask him to talk to our governments, and to help us to prepare a future treaty on technology and privacy for 2018, the forty-year anniversary of the creation of the CNIL, France’s Data Protection Authority.
Alternatives Economiques / Décembre 2013 / Numéro 330 / p24