Madrid Conference Highlights Difficult Balance between National Security and Privacy
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Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, the Spanish Minister of the Interior, spoke in contrasting tones today of the difficulties of finding the right balance between security and privacy.  The theme "Striving for a Balance Between Security and Privacy" was debated during the first plenary session of the 31st International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners in Madrid.

Secretary Napolitano emphasized the commitment of U.S. agencies to working with other countries to encourage data sharing in the common pursuit of preventing terrorism and other serious crime, and securing national borders.  She acknowledged the fact of local differences in approaches to privacy and data protection, but urged that data must be shared wherever there is a legitimate need to do so.

Delivering a similar message and focusing on the dynamic nature of the privacy versus security equilibrium, the Spanish Minister of the Interior focused on global networks as enablers of terrorism and crime, and of the requirement for law enforcement agencies to access global data flows between terrorists and criminals. While acknowledging that there is no real consensus as to where the equilibrium lies, he emphasized the need to work within existing legal frameworks, including global privacy laws. 

Reacting to the keynote addresses, subsequent speakers urged law makers and law enforcers to focus on creating and enforcing strong laws that establish clear safeguards for privacy as a means of reversing the current reality where security routinely takes precedence over privacy. Speakers also highlighted the fact that the right to be forgotten, and for data not to be retained indefinitely, are key privacy safeguards that are often overlooked in the name of security.  The Department of Homeland Security subsequently issued a news release regarding Secretary Napolitano's remarks.

The debate is not new, and there are no easy answers to the issues it raises. What is new is that the Lisbon Treaty, agreed by the EU on November 3, may well affect where the balance lies in Europe and how it is observed.


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