Have you already bought domain names with your children’s names?

While recently purchasing yet more personal domain names to point to my website I was tempted to think about the future and therefore run a search for domain names with my children’s names. Some are still available, others not. So, should I buy the ones available and place alerts for the other ones just in case? Several of my friends had embarked on a purchasing frenzy as soon as their children were born, covering all imaginable combinations of domain names with their newborns’ names. Should I copy them? Or should I let life take its course?

What is in a personal domain name anyway? Technically it is a unique identifier on the internet, a promise that we be discoverable within a sea of a billion internet users. As a unique identifier it is as valuable as our tax or social security number, or even our name. Personal domain names have been marketed as carving out real estate of our own on the internet, but I do not agree with this metaphor.

A domain name can be for life but it can also change to keep up with changes in our circumstances. We can use it immediately or store it away. Hidden away personal domain names are unreachable to anybody else. Against basic intellectual property law, this is indeed one item of intellectual property that can be kept away from all humanity — a small egoistical action available to each one of us. A personal domain name can even be under-used, forced to merely forward internet users to another domain name that is more desirable to us. And, of course, it can be abandoned at any moment for somebody else to take.

Personal domain names are harsh reminders of our unique-lessness. Thousands carry the same name as us. Personal domain names are up for grabs by whoever is the fastest or better informed. Others will have to patiently wait, if ever to be rewarded or be given a second chance.

Therefore, as with any good in scarcity therein lies their true worth. A prestigious, in vogue, personal domain name adds value to the social image of its holder. Less so a less common one — and we have yet to see domain names that are looked down on.

Social image value, however, lies in the eye of the beholder: Because new domain name extensions are added periodically one has to remain alert as to what is available and, even better, trendy. Today, your name ending in “.com” is considered best. However new alternatives pop up all the time: Should we add a “.me” personal domain name as well? What about “.name”? Perhaps also a domain name with our profession in it (e.g. “.accountant”)? The list is practically endless, ultimately connected with how we see, and wish to project, our own self.

Personal domain names are a relatively recent concern. In the early days of the internet nobody imagined a domain name of one’s person. Speculation at best evolved around foreseeable popular domain names such as “business.com” or “sex.com”. So-called cybersquatters, a term derived again from the real estate domain, only purchased domain names of famous companies in order to resell them with a handsome profit. Nobody ever imagined registering personal domain names for their own use, much less for their children.

It was most likely the 2006 Time Magazine “You” person of the year article that first brought to our attention that each one of us is the product. And, for any product to have any luck in modern society good marketing is imperative. Social media presence aside, a prestigious personal domain name and a corresponding good-looking personal website is the starting point and at the same time the point of reference upon which such a personal promotional policy builds.

Apparently however one needs to be worth of one’s domain name. If you wish you to be the only one carrying a domain name of your name among the thousands or even millions that carry the same name as you, well, then you better deserve it. Keeping a prestigious personal domain name is meritocracy on the internet: One can only support it through a correspondingly long list of achievements.

However, this is exactly where the real problems kick-in: If you are unlucky enough to be named Mark Zuckerberg, can you really claim the domain name “markzuckerberg.com”? Even worst, if your kid happens to carry the same name as the then President of the USA or the next trendy multi-billionaire, could it still keep the “.com” personal domain name you so prudently acquired for it at its birth? Even my own (rare) name is shared not only by Greece’s most famous singer but also by a prominent line of politicians and lawyers. What gives me the moral (not legal, legal is served on the first come-first served principle) to keep my name’s “.com” domain name against them?

This is why I never quite liked the real estate metaphor: A moderately priced real estate may be bought and kept for life by anybody. A 30-Euro/per year personal domain name may be bought by anybody, but it can well come to be that he or she at some point will simply feel not entitled to keep it any longer.

Even if this is not the case, a locked away domain name can be depressing. Asset idleness makes us restless. A personal domain name without a good-looking, updated personal website is our next project waiting to take place, tormenting us until it does, particularly if its start is endlessly postponed towards an unforeseeable future.

 


So, in view of the above, should we buy one, or more, for our children?

Thales replied to Solon that he remained single because he did not like the idea of having to worry about children; Parenting had always been a demanding job. While our basic instinct is to equip our children as best as possible so as to navigate life successfully (which after all led to a field of law, on inheritance rights, as old as humans), exactly how is that to take place has long been a point of debate.

A thousand years ago unwillingness to divide (low yield) land dictated that only the firstborn inherited all assets, leaving children next in line to hope for a military career, priesthood, or a good marriage. Kant’s emancipation through knowledge made things easier for second-borns, and I think that the rise of intellectual property finally made life a level playing field. Or, perhaps this is not true any longer: The Economist recently spoke of an “hereditary meritocracy”, whereby upper classes pay more (attention) to their children’s education, leading to the creation of an intellectual capital that is transformed later on into tangible property.

So, are personal domain names with our children’s names part of the intellectual property to be inherited to them, together with a good education and all our other social capital (our own name and reputation and social network), in order for them to perform better in their lives? Only two decades ago Magris wrote that he had been collecting Meissen porcelain sets piece-by-piece for years, in order to pass them on even as half-sets to his children thus allowing them to start their own collection. In an IKEA world, are personal domain names for our children the Meissen porcelain sets equivalent?

I think that the problem with Meissen porcelains is that they need to be used in context. Magris can well use them to serve his guests, however if one is found with an inherited Meissen set whereby however his or her other life circumstances do not concur, then that porcelain set risks becoming a depressing relic of a past life that was but no longer is, of a life that could be, of an unfulfilled promise or, even worst, potential.

Why would anyone wish to inflict so much pain to his or her children? I suppose there are two ways of seeing this, the aggressive one, whereby setting the bar high incentivises, and the passive one, whereby parent’s ambitions should not be imposed upon their children in fear of failure. Coming from a European background I would tend towards the latter but I can well understand proponents of the former.

So, I did not buy domain names with my children’s names after all. Technological developments aside (that in one sweep could easily render all today’s domain name system obsolete), I believe it is a matter of expectations. I choose not to impose on my children what I think they should do, what I think they should accomplish. Nor set them on a constant struggle to justify keeping their personal domain name against all others. I would prefer not to set any expectations for them whatsoever. However, I fully understand those parents that think different, and, for example, choose to place a bet on their infant sons making the national team before they reach thirty — after all, quite a few of them got a nice pay-check out of their blind faith to their offspring’s potential.

 

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What your hard drive reveals about you — and software design

I recently had a hard time explaining to my kids the use of folders in hard drives. Hierarchy they could more or less understand, as well as the fact that documents, photos and other files need to be found at a specific place. What they could not come to terms with was content specificity: They simply could not follow my reasoning why any separate topic requires a new folder, found within another folder on the wider topic, found within a folder of the general topic, etc.

At some point I understood that it is probably me, not them. I remembered similar realisations whenever I happened to work on younger colleagues’ computers. Desktop clutter aside, they mostly used a very shallow folder structure: One or two levels below the basic folder would generally do, each folder including maybe several dozens of files.

For me it is quite the opposite. My hard drive is full of sub-subfolders, however each one includes only a few files, sometimes even only one. Each filename invariably carries the date it was created. Why the difference?

If I search back, my first realisation that something was wrong came when I first used Evernote, many years ago. Why did it make so much fuss about tags? And why was there only one level of notebook structure? Even stacks did not seem to do it for me.

The same happened when I recently switched from Windows to macOS: Who would possibly wish to organise files based on their colour?

However, as signs increase at an alarming pace I cannot help but wonder, am I the exemption and not the rule? Am I the, inevitable, backwards compatibility requirement for any new software release? Or software could, and should, cater for all types of human brains, liberating humans in the process?

 

Introduction of the new series and mission statement

 

I belong to a generation that was not born into the digital but was brought up in it. Not that we had any choice. The digital transformation caught us in our early, formative years and it changed everything. We therefore had to adapt what we already knew to the digital. However we were the last ones that were required to do so — the next generation was brought up thinking the internet is a public utility. So I feel that I need to take a photograph and discuss technology’s why and how come. How it all far too quickly became what it is. And, hopefully, how the digital can finally embrace the human. I find that often the breakneck pace of technological progress fails to acknowledge the human condition.

These notes are also aimed at helping me to make sense of the digital. Too often those of us involved professionally with it are found in a whirlwind, where new and aspiring world-changing ideas appear and disappear overnight. Technologies not older than our children come to dominate human lives, asking pressingly for well-thought-of regulation. Sometimes I feel that a deep breath is needed, followed by an effort to connect the dots and identify true added value.

Why now? Like Renan, it was not until I was well advanced in life that I began to have any souvenirs. And, strangely enough it was the coming into effect of an important new piece of legislation, in 2018, that first caused me a strong backwards impulse, a pressing feeling to re-visit what has been achieved so far. This series is complementary to the GDPR ethics series: It shall take into consideration technology at large and not only personal data processing. Occasionally they may intersect, because indeed the GDPR today seems to be the go-to legal/ethics panacea for any and all new technologies, however while the GDPR ethics series is aimed at explaining its moral principles and policy options this series is aimed at discussing the why and the how come of information technology affecting our daily lives.

 

On our need to organise and categorise - also electronically
So, coming back to the folder structure, I believe that the gap between my own computer files’ organisation and that of younger generations came to be because I actually have worked with a filing cabinet. I was therefore trained to compartmentalise information. To think in terms of paper files and alphabetical or chronological indexes. Without them any paper file would be useless. Tags or colours were simply irrelevant.

On the other hand information technology allows a variety of searches onto any collection of data. A “structured set of [personal] data which are accessible according to specific criteria” is no longer necessary. It may even be unwanted, divulging personal biases of the organiser (as in algorithmic bias). Ultimately, a folder system may not even be needed at all. Humans need to make information accessible to them: If this can be achieved in any number of ways, why spend time and effort organising it as if filing cabinets could be replicated on hard drives?

So, why do Windows and macOS developers still bother with folders? Why does Evernote still use stacks? Why does OneNote replicate a typical, traditional, old-fashioned paper notebook? One explanation would be, so that my generation (now prime and supposedly able to pay users) can still feel at home. A more plausible one would perhaps be that humans need to categorise, in a more or less Aristotelian manner. Whether this human-userbias is inevitable, because humans for the moment design and use these technologies, and, if this is true, whether it is developing a crippling or an enabling effect for both (technology and humans), is exactly what this series is set out to explore.

 

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Οι ευχετήριες κάρτες των Χριστουγέννων

Ανήκω σε κείνη τη γενιά που έχει περάσει όλα τα στάδια σε σχέση με τις ευχετήριες κάρτες των Χριστουγέννων. Κατά τη δεκαετία του 1990 οι έντυπες ευχετήριες κάρτες ήταν ο κανόνας. Ακόμα θυμάμαι τις εκατοντάδες εκτυπώσεις σε «καλό» χαρτί σε, πρωτοείδωτους τότε, laser εκτυπωτές προσωποποιημένων μαζικών ευχετήριων καρτών που το mail merge του MS Word έκανε προσιτές σε όλους. Μετά, «φακέλιασμα» με το χέρι, μεταφορά σε σάκο στο ταχυδρομείο και άπειρες ώρες για την ταχυδρόμηση μιας-μιας.

Οι ευχετήριες κάρτες των Χριστουγέννων

Από τη μεριά του αποδέκτη, οι κάρτες που καθένας μας δεχόταν ήταν αντικείμενο υπερηφάνειας και ενίοτε επαγγελματικού ανταγωνισμού. Μισοανοιγμένες τις παρατάσσαμε στα γραφεία μας, τεκμήρια πόσο μας εκτιμούν οι πελάτες και οι συνεργάτες μας. Όσο περισσότερες, τόσο καλύτερα.

Η έντυπη κάρτα άντεξε μέχρι τα μέσα της δεκαετίας 2000. Κάπου τότε άρχισαν τα μαζικά emails. Το χαρτί αντικαταστάθηκε από τα ευχετήρια emails, και για ένα-δυο χρόνια αυτό έφερε μια ευπρόσδεκτη οικονομία τόσο σε κόπο όσο και σε χρήμα – οι ευχετήριες κάρτες είχαν κάποιο κόστος ενώ τα email ήταν δωρεάν.

Σιγά-σιγά καταλάβαμε ότι αυτό δεν ήταν σωστό. Το ότι δεν στέλνεις χαρτί δεν σημαίνει ότι τη γλιτώνεις φθηνά. Αντιθέτως, τα χρήματα που θα δαπανούσες εκεί, και ακόμα περισσότερα, θα έπρεπε να προσφερθούν σε φιλανθρωπικούς σκοπούς.

Στην αρχή τέτοια email, με ευχές για τα Χριστούγεννα αλλά και ρητή αναφορά στον υποστηριζόμενο φιλανθρωπικό σκοπό, τα φτιάχναμε με το χέρι, αφού οι ελληνικές τουλάχιστον φιλανθρωπικές οργανώσεις επέμεναν για καιρό να μην παρέχουν αντίστοιχη ηλεκτρονική δυνατότητα.

Φέτος παρατηρώ ότι για παράδειγμα το Χαμόγελο του Παιδιού διαθέτει επιτέλους χριστουγεννιάτικη ηλεκτρονική κάρτα. Δεν γνωρίζω πότε προστέθηκε αυτή η δυνατότητα. Όποτε και να ήταν, νομίζω ότι άργησε. Ήδη φέτος ο όγκος των ευχετηρίων email στο inbox μου έχει πέσει αισθητά σε σχέση με άλλες χρονιές. Τι συνέβη;

Εν μέρει αυτό νομίζω ότι οφείλεται στην αφαίρεση του θρησκευτικού χαρακτήρα από τα Χριστούγεννα. Καθώς το Merry Christmas αντικαθίσταται από το Season’s Greetings ατονεί η ανάγκη να ευχηθεί ο ένας στον άλλον ακόμα και ηλεκτρονικά. Εύχεται ποτέ κανείς στον άλλον Καλές Διακοπές;

Επίσης νομίζω ότι έχει γίνει αντιληπτό πως οι μαζικές αποστολές ευχετηρίων email περισσότερο ως spam μπορεί να ερμηνευτούν παρά ως πραγματικές ευχές. Ποιος άραγε θα πιστέψει ότι ένα μαζικό email από μια επιχείρηση που μας εύχεται Καλά Χριστούγεννα έχει μεγαλύτερη αξία από το συνηθισμένο newsletter της που μας στέλνει κάθε τρίμηνο;

Αυτό που πρέπει τώρα όμως να σημειώσω είναι ότι όλα τα παραπάνω αφορούν τις επαγγελματικές ευχετήριες κάρτες των Χριστουγέννων. Οι προσωπικές διατήρησαν την αξία τους, αν δεν την αύξησαν κιόλας. Όλα αυτά τα χρόνια η λήψη μιας προσωπικής κάρτας από το ταχυδρομείο, με χειρόγραφο μήνυμα και προσωποποιημένες ευχές πάντα προκαλεί συγκίνηση, και συχνά οι κάρτες αυτές τοποθετούνται ακόμα και σαν στολίδια στο χριστουγεννιάτικο δέντρο.

Νομίζω δηλαδή ότι τελικά αυτό που εκτιμάται, ανεξαρτήτως του digital ή του πραγματικού κόσμου, είναι ο ανθρώπινος κόπος. Αν κάποιος μπει στον κόπο να διαλέξει και να αγοράσει έντυπες κάρτες, να σκεφτεί ευχές, να τις γράψει με το χέρι και να τις ταχυδρομήσει, τότε αυτό έχει μια αξία που δεν μπορεί να αγνοηθεί. Το mail merge του MS Word και οι online μηχανές αποστολής newsletters, πολύ μικρότερη.

Στο ίδιο πλαίσιο, ο ανθρώπινος κόπος θα μπορούσε να είναι και ψηφιακός. Αν κάποιος μπει στον κόπο να γράψει ένα προσωποποιημένο email, να διαλέξει γραφικά και να το στείλει σε έναν αποδέκτη, θεωρώ ότι και αυτό έχει την αξία του. Ή, στο ίδιο πλαίσιο, το να διαλέξει ένα χαρούμενο video clip ή κάτι παρόμοιο – και αυτό ενσωματώνει κόπο και ενασχόληση. Κι ας μην μπορούν όλα αυτά να εκτυπωθούν και να μπουν δίπλα στο χριστουγεννιάτικο δέντρο, είναι τελικά, όπως πάντα, η σκέψη του συνανθρώπου που μετρά και όχι η ψηφιακή ή έντυπη ενσωμάτωσή της.

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Νομική Σχολή Πατρών; Και γιατί όχι;

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Γνωρίζω πολύ καλά ότι η Ολομέλεια των Δικηγορικών Συλλόγων, οι Νομικές Σχολές Αθήνας και Θεσσαλονίκης καθώς και, ακόμα πιο έντονα, της Κομοτηνής είναι αρνητικοί στο θέμα της ίδρυσης νέας Νομικής Σχολής στο Πανεπιστήμιο Πατρών. Νομίζω όμως ότι κάνουν λάθος, και ότι η ίδρυση μιας νέας σχολής αποτελεί θετική εξέλιξη, για τους εξής λόγους:

 

Οι Δικηγορικοί Σύλλογοι δεν έχουν λόγο για τις νομικές σπουδές στην Ελλάδα. Αυτό προκύπτει τόσο από τον ίδιο των Κώδικα (ακόμα και υπό την ιδιότητά τους ως «σύμβουλοι της Πολιτείας»), όσο και από την αποστολή καθενός: Οι Δικηγορικοί Σύλλογοι είναι βασικά επαγγελματικοί σύλλογοι και η ανώτατη εκπαίδευση βασικά παρέχει επιστήμονες στην κοινωνία μας. Επομένως, αν θα ιδρυθεί μια ή δέκα νέες νομικές σχολές στη χώρα, και κατ’ επέκτασιν το πρόγραμμα σπουδών τους, ο κατάλογος των διδασκόντων τους, η διάρκεια της φοίτησης ή οτιδήποτε άλλο αφορά την οργάνωσή και λειτουργία τους δεν αφορά τους Δικηγορικούς Συλλόγους.

Αυτό σημαίνει ότι δεν μπορούν να έχουν άποψη σχετικά; Φυσικά και όχι, καθένας μπορεί να έχει άποψη για οτιδήποτε. Το πρόβλημα με την άποψη των Δικηγορικών Συλλόγων είναι ότι επιμένουν να συσχετίζουν το επάγγελμα με τις σπουδές, ενισχύοντας έτσι ένα κοινωνικό στερεότυπο που εδώ και χρόνια η πραγματικότητα έχει πάψει να υποστηρίζει.

Με λίγα λόγια, οι απόφοιτοι νομικής δεν είναι βέβαιο ότι θα εργαστούν ως δικηγόροι, ούτε ως δικαστές ούτε ως συμβολαιογράφοι. Η νομική σχολή δεν παράγει επαγγελματίες της νομικής αλλά νομικούς επιστήμονες. Οι απόφοιτοι νομικής μπορεί να κάνουν οτιδήποτε στη ζωή τους, μεταξύ άλλων, ναι, και να εργαστούν ως δικηγόροι. Αλλά αυτό ούτε απαραίτητο είναι, ούτε καν σκόπιμο υπό τις παρούσες συνθήκες. Επομένως, οι εν ενεργεία δικηγόροι δεν μιλούν εξ ονόματός τους, ούτε εξ ονόματος ενός υποτιθέμενου μέλλοντός τους.

Η σύνδεση της ανώτατης εκπαίδευσης με τα επαγγέλματα είναι λάθος τόσο υπό αριστερή θεώρηση (αυτή του τρίπτυχου φοιτητικός συνδικαλισμός-ήπια απασχόληση στο δημόσιο-πρόωρη συνταξιοδότηση) όσο και υπό νεοφιλελεύθερη (η ανώτατη εκπαίδευση ως σεμινάρια κατάρτισης στελεχών επιχειρήσεων). Η παρέμβαση των Δικηγορικών Συλλόγων διαιωνίζει μια εντοπισμένη έλλειψη προσαρμογής της ελληνικής κοινωνίας στις σύγχρονες συνθήκες, φέρνοντάς την πίσω αντί να την πηγαίνει μπροστά.

 

Οι υπόλοιπες νομικές σχολές δεν έχουν λόγο για την ίδρυση μιας νέας. Δεν αφορά τις υπόλοιπες νομικές σχολές της χώρας αν μια νέα θα ιδρυθεί. Κάθε Πανεπιστήμιο έχει αποστολή την καλύτερη οργάνωση των δικών του προγραμμάτων, όχι την παρακολούθηση των προγραμμάτων των διπλανών. Και αν ακόμα το έκανε ποτέ αυτό, να λοξοκοιτάξει τι κάνουν οι δίπλα, θα όφειλε να το κάνει για λόγους επιστημονικής άμιλλας και υπό καθεστώς υγιούς επιστημονικού ανταγωνισμού, ίσως ακόμα και σε μια προσπάθεια βελτιστοποίησης της χρήσης των δικών του ανθρώπινων και οικονομικών πόρων. Των δικών του, όχι των πόρων των άλλων.

Επομένως, το επιχείρημα «αφού δεν μου δίνετε εμένα λεφτά, μην δίνετε και σε αυτούς» δεν είναι παραγωγικό αλλά αμοιβαίως καταστροφικό, και πάλι δημιουργώντας πρόβλημα στην ελληνική κοινωνία.

Επίσης, δεν μπορώ παρά να σημειώσω το λογικό σφάλμα ότι τάχα, αν δεν δοθούν τα χρήματα για την ίδρυση της Νομικής της Πάτρας τα ίδια αυτά χρήματα θα δοθούν σε άλλη νομική σχολή της χώρας, στην Θράκη, στην Αθήνα ή στη Θεσσαλονίκη. Ούτε ειδικός κωδικός στον προϋπολογισμό φαντάζομαι δημιουργήθηκε υπέρ νομικών σχολών της χώρας, ούτε άλλωστε η οποιαδήποτε ιεράρχηση των εκπαιδευτικών ή και εθνικών αναγκών βάζει αμέσως μετά την ίδρυση νέας σχολής την ενίσχυση των υπόλοιπων που είναι ήδη σε λειτουργία.

 

Προσωπικά, μόνο θετικά βλέπω στη νέα πρωτοβουλία:  Μια νέα Σχολή θα αυξήσει τον αριθμό εισακτέων, κάτι που είναι καλό για τους νέους που θέλουν να ακολουθήσουν το (νομικού αντικειμένου) όνειρό τους. Γιατί να τους το αρνηθεί κανείς; Γιατί να αναγκαστούν να σπουδάσουν αλλού;

Επίσης, μια νέα νομική σχολή θα δώσει δυναμισμό και στις υπόλοιπες: Η Αθήνα θα νιώσει τον επιστημονικό ανταγωνισμό δίπλα της, η Κομοτηνή και η Θεσσαλονίκη θα αυξήσουν την προσπάθεια για να προσελκύσουν τους καλύτερους φοιτητές και διδάσκοντες. Τι το κακό σε αυτό;

Τη σύγχρονη πραγματικότητα, του παγκοσμιοποιημένου επαγγελματικού περιβάλλοντος, του ακαδημαϊκού publish or perish, αλλά κυρίως των τεράστιων ευρωπαϊκών δυνατοτήτων που πλουσιοπάροχα προσφέρονται σε όλους μας, μπορεί κανείς να την αντιμετωπίσει με δύο τρόπους: Είτε να την αγνοήσει, ζητώντας από το κράτος να του εξασφαλίσει επαγγελματικά δικαιώματα, διδάσκοντες και διδασκομένους, ή να την λάβει υπόψη του και να προσπαθήσει να «μπει στον χάρτη». Προσωπικά, για το καλό της χώρας και όλων μας, προτείνω το δεύτερο. Η ίδρυση νέας νομικής σχολής, στην Πάτρα ή/και αλλού, αποτελεί θετικό βήμα προς την κατεύθυνση αυτή.

 

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No right to be forgotten for the GDPR

Article 4 of the GDPR contains its definitions. This is in line both with its predecessor, the EU 1995 Data Protection Directive, and general EU law-making: Customarily, in all EU technical legislation a set of definitions comes before the actual legal provisions. This is basic law-writing technique also met in complex contracts: Definitions come first so as to warrant certainty and common understanding for everybody reading the text that follows.

So is the case with the GDPR: Individuals are “data subjects”; Organisations are either “controllers” or “processors”; “Processing” under the GDPR is far wider than processing in the real world; Profilingpseudonymisation, or filing systemare all defined in this same article, as well as, of course, personal dataitself.

My point is, however, why are definitions needed at all in the GDPR? If it is does what it claims to be doing, “lay down the rules relating to application of a fundamental human right”, then why does it need technical clarifications and definitions? Do human rights need to be technically specified?

I cannot think of any other fundamental human right that does the same. In fact, I cannot think of any other human right so much in need of specialised legislation in order to function. Normally human rights are general, single-line declarations, intentionally so, in order to cover any and all cases. Technical specificity is not a requirement.

Instead, the fundamental right of data protection in the EU seems to need the GDPR in order to apply at all. Without the GDPR Europeans seem to be at a loss, what to do with this newborn right.

Interdependence with the GDPR is explainable, if we trace the history of the right to data protection. It first started as specialised legislation for personal data processing under the general right to privacy, hence specificity was needed. Emancipation came only in 2009, with the EU Treaty of Lisbon, however by then legislators simply could not think out the box.

Unimaginative law-making resulted in the GDPR being what it is today. Essentially, the GDPR followed the structure of the 1995 Directive; The Directive itself followed the pattern of basic national EU data protection laws at the time (early 1990s); These followed the first example of the Data Protection Act in Hesse of 1970, whose article 2 (surprise, surprise) contains a set of definitions.

The GDPR therefore inherited its structure and nomenclature from the deep past of European data protection. Because its adoption was deeply political law-makers did not dare to draft something entirely new, in line with the newly acquired fundamental rights status of data protection. Instead, they chose to follow what was already known and, hopefully, easily digestible by politicians. (Not that such servile attitude did them any good, if it wasn’t for the Snowden revelations the GDPR would never have taken off the ground).

What is the problem anyway with the GDPR definitions? They are what they are, why bother to change them?

  • First and foremost, the GDPR nomenclature alienates the people it wishes to serve. In theory, the GDPR aims to serve ordinary people, desperate about the ever-growing processing of their personal data in all aspects of their everyday lives. In practice, it comes off as a specialised, hard-to-understand piece of technical legislation that non-experts cannot even talk about without the help of (highly paid) specialists.
  • Second, it transmits the wrong image about the GDPR itself. If it is a technical piece of legislation, with checklists on how to process “personal data” by “controllers” and “processors”, then if all items on the checklist are ticked surely compliance, or adequacy, are ensured? This is an important point, leading to deep misunderstandings, when dealing with businesses, the Americans, or the Chinese. However, it is not their fault – it is the GDPR’s, being as much a set of technical instructions and at the same time a law defining closer a human right.

What could have been done? The GDPR should have been worded differently. Definitions should have been scrapped altogether: We are talking about people, after all. The GDPR should only have consisted of the terms persons (or individuals, depending how neoliberal one feels) and controllers (to denote anybody that processes personal data). Not much else is needed when a human right applies.

The GDPR’s much celebrated right to be forgotten sets that past data can be erased when “they are no longer necessary”. Apparently, this is not the case with the GDPR itself. Instead, EU data protection seems forever trapped in a past when it was struggling for dear life. Fifty years later, although data protection reached the top and finally acquired human rights status, its basic secondary legislation, the GDPR, still has to pay homage to a past it apparently can never escape from.

 

 

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