Tame digitization

Interview with Peter Schaar, former German Federal Data Protection Commissioner. Questions by Thomas Kremer, Board Member Data Privacy, Legal Affairs and Compliance Deutsche Telekom.


Thomas Kremer: Mr. Schaar, should people be worried or fearful of digitization?

Peter Schaar: Fear is a poor basis for coping with change or the unknown – but naiveness will not help much either. The most important thing, in my opinion, is for people to come to grips with digitization and not pretend or believe that it is insignificant. Digitization is a challenge for each and every one of us. It's not only a challenge for individuals, but also for every business enterprise and society as a whole. I also think that we can approach the subject with optimism. But also with great care as well! We should not lose sight of the possibility that rampant and uncontrolled digitization, that does not comply with values of our society, could very well have some very negative consequences.

Thomas Kremer: As more and more data is collected and analyzed, one can rightly wonder about the role and limits of data protection as we know it.

Peter Schaar: In such situations, I believe that data protection is an absolute must. Data protection doesn't mean turning the clock back to the analog age, a time when masses of personal data were not being stored as is the case today. However, we should be striving to keep digitization in check – in other words, to "tame" it – while also making sure that data which does not really need to be personalized is left just as it is, and that data intended to be confidential is appropriately and effectively safeguarded.

Thomas Kremer: But who is actually responsible for data protection during digitization processes? Is it the government, the business enterprises, or each individual person? Who is supposed to bear this responsibility?

Peter Schaar: People always tend to delegate responsibility – well, let's say a lot of us do by "passing the buck" to someone else. In this case, however, I think this would be the wrong thing to do. All of the key players – the government, citizens and business – must take action, each in different ways. For example, government agencies must provide the regulatory framework that's required. That's a fundamental element. Then, of course, the general population and business enterprises must accept and comply with the regulations. It's not just a matter of us conducting ourselves in accordance with official rules, but also that we all conduct ourselves according to our conscience and ethical standards with regard to social and individual freedom, which could otherwise be endangered.

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