Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, President of the French data protection authority or CNIL and Chair of the EU Working Party (WP29) on personal data protection
Recent topics in the news such as the European Union’s data protection regulation and the “right to be forgotten” or “delisted” are changing the way we view data protection and notions of privacy. Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin is the President of the French Data Protection authority (“Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés”). She has been a member of the CNIL since 2004. Appointed as Deputy Chair of this authority from 2009 to 2011, she became its President in 2011. She was reelected by the members of the Commission in 2014. She was also elected Chair of the Article 29 Working Party (Group of the 28 European data protection authorities ) for a two-year term in 2014. She graduated in France from the HEC School of Business Management (“Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales”), the National Administration School (“Ecole Nationale d’Administration”) and the Multimedia Institute (“Institut Mutltimédia”).
According to the CNIL’s web site, CNIL is “an independent administrative body that has been entrusted with the general duty to inform people of the rights that the data protection legislation allows them and to make sure this law is respected by all.” The CNIL’s missions range from education and public awareness to providing compliance tools to all data users and to sanctions.
Susan Liautaud & Associates Limited: Nine Questions for Leaders
1. What is the most important ethical lesson you have learned (either personally or professionally)?
It is impossible to escape ethics. Even if you try to evade it in the short-term, it will come back through a door or a window and affect you in the longer-term. More generally, we are increasingly faced with the question “I can, so why shouldn’t I?” as a fundamental ethical conundrum of technology. This positions the technology in offering new freedoms to the individuals which is great but sometimes without taking into account societal interests and questions of human dignity.
Ethical questions have interested me for a long time. Many years ago I was involved in questions of the ethics of issues like fertility treatments. The ethical reasoning and the intellectual infrastructure is somehow the same today with digital questions.
2. What is the most shocking corporate ethics matter you have seen in the news recently? Non-profit sector? Why?
One of the most shocking stories was the Libor rate-rigging scandal. Banks took interest rates, established for the proper functioning of the financial sector so for the general interest of society, and fraudulently turned it to their own profit. This is an example of the larger theme of individual versus collective interest.
In the non-profit sector, the most shocking are organizations that take donor money and use it for the personal benefit of management or those in positions of authority.
3. What do you see as the opportunities for the corporate sector and non-profit sector to collaborate in raising the bar in ethical matters?
Please see comments throughout.
4. What are the most effective strategies for mitigating risk of unethical behaviour in your organization?
First, I believe that the code of conduct or other expectations must be made very clear and must be an organization-wide project involving everyone. Second, the example needs to be set from the top down (for example, reduction in expenditures and with strong top management involvement ). Third, ethics applies to everyone irrespective of the position in the organization from the President to the chauffer. Small ethics things are often just as important as major issues like money laundering.
5. What are your strategies for ensuring ethical policies and standards flow down through all levels of the organizing and to all stakeholders?
This is the most difficult question. There needs to be energy from the boss (not only words). But this requires time. Snapping fingers doesn’t change cultures. It is daily work and endless repetition and re-examination of processes that ultimately change a culture. Too often there is a huge gap between the president’s words and the reality on the ground.
At the CNIL, we focus on what we call “transversal.” This means mix with others, get out and speak to people who are not in your area – interact! More generally, the CNIL has been campaigning and organizing across major societal groups for increased digital education. We are not yet adequately responsive to the demand for this or up to the level we need to be given the type of society that technology will produce without vigilance.
Organizations that do not focus on ethics will not survive in the long run because they will lose the trust of their stakeholders. Ethics is a key element of sustainable and long-term profit and growth.
6. Are there areas you think regulation should be more extensive in regulating corporate ethics? Non-profit sector ethics?
There is a fundamental misunderstanding of the difference between privacy and protection of personal data between EU and the USA. They are not the same. In a digitalized world, we must protect the choice people have regarding their data not just their private lives. So data protection is larger than privacy. Sometimes we want to enter public life with our data, but we want to be able to choose what is done with it. We want to maintain control over our data. This is very new. Five years ago we were still talking about “private life.” This ethics issue is critical and comes back to the question of balance between individual versus the collective.
Regulation here is insufficient and could be improved, for example in giving people the right to access their data in a comprehensible way. Innovation in products should focus on how to put the protection of digital data within the control of the individual – the success of companies will depend on this. Recently at a technology conference in Las Vegas one company explained that they waited to launch a security camera product until they could meet customer demands to protect personal data by keeping it on the camera and not in the cloud.
7. Should culture be an important contextual element in ethics analysis? What is unique about the ethical culture and environment in your country that should be taken into consideration?
Data protection is very affected by culture. For example, racial or political data is not perceived in the same way in Germany or northern Europe as in France. Also, there is one specifically French fundamental point linked to the human body: the body in French law is not “available” meaning that it cannot be sold. There was a series of important laws in the area of bioethics organizing donating blood or organs and it is considered that these can be donated but not sold. With the “digital body” the whole debate continues. Some are pushing, in the US and in Europe, the concept of data ownership, saying that it would allow us to better negotiate our data against the GAFA. But usually once we have sold something we no longer have rights on it which is not the case today with our data! And it would also change the kind of ethical ground of our law .
For example, what if an insurance company says “you give me all of your data for life, and I will insure you for life”? But if we do this, we ruin the notion that the body (digital body included) is not “available” for purchase or sale.
Fundamentally this issue goes back to the core theme that in the end we engage more than ourselves when we make choices about digital data (or organ donations…). Individual choices affect society – they commit to a vision of human beings and human dignity. There is the recurring tension between the wish of the individual and the collective vision of the individual. So we should consider the question of ownership (and purchase and sale therefore) of digital data with exactly the same reasoning as with organ donations. We should never sell data (our own or others’ data). No one owns data. Rather, individuals have rights to make choices about their data wherever that data is in the world, used by them or by others.
8. Do you think globally applicable ethics principles and practices are possible? Desirable?
I am not sure this is possible right now. Maybe we have to live with two or three different systems but develop routes for interconnecting and operating across them if we want substantive ethics.
9. What is the biggest mistake people make in making decisions around ethical issues?
The biggest mistake people make is to reason on the sole basis of their own situation – to focus ethics on themselves. Ethics is not about individual morality. It is about collective values.
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