The SURPRISE (Surveillance, Privacy and Security) project have held a focus group at the EUI urging Florentines to offer opinions and ideas to EU policy makers in Brussels on matters of privacy and security, both on and offline. Similar events, organised by the Austrian Institute for Technology Assessment, have taken place across the continent. They involve citizens discussing and reviewing ideas aimed at making national and international security services accountable to the public.
The event held at the Villa Schifanoia was facilitated by the EUI Department of Law and organised by Maria Grazia Porcedda, a EUI researcher. During the event she told EUI Life about her concerns, “The technologies that we’re discussing are technologies that citizens do not even know are being used to investigate, detect and prosecute crime so the policy makers and politicians have to ask themselves if they want to apply the rule of law, which implies that citizens have to have a degree of information.”
“The law” she added, “has to be simple and known and we are far behind schedule in this respect. We hope that the politicians and policy makers will start reflecting on this and think that perhaps to protect security there is a need for transparency; it just means involving the citizens in one of the most important matters of our collective life, which is security.”
Documents realised throughout 2013 by the American whistle-blower Edward Snowden, have shown that governments and their security services have been remarkably undemocratic and unaccountable in their collection of mass data from the public.
There is a precedent for action. Across the Atlantic, American law makers have responded with a bill to curtail the data collecting powers of the NSA. But this legislation was heavily watered down after political negotiations and as a result, some of its original sponsors refused support it.
Maria Grazia Porcedda believes that action is the only option “I think that we have to take an optimistic approach, there is no alternative. We have to wake up and start realising that these are not matters that can be left to someone else, we have to take a proactive approach and react… If we decide that nothing can be changed, nothing will be changed.”
Similar events have also taken place in Denmark, Hungary, Norway and Spain. Feedback will be summarised and presented to EU politicians and policy makers with a view towards passing legislation to protect the rights of internet users in Europe.