Data protection boss likens data misuse to ‘stealing someone’s wallet’

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MISUSING data should be as socially unacceptable as stealing someone’s wallet, the Bailiwick’s data protection commissioner has told an international conference.

Pic by Adrian Miller 27-03-19. Data Protection Officer Emma Martins. (26082680)

Emma Martins was invited to speak at the PrivSec conference in Dublin, which saw 700 delegates from across the world hear from expert speakers.

Alongside Mrs Martins, representatives from Google, Hewlett Packard, Etihad Airways, Aviva and the Bank of Ireland explored a range of conference topics covering data protection, security and governance.

She spoke on four key areas of regulation – prediction, prevention, detection and enforcement.

In her talk, she said she was deeply worried about how the information people produced and the information about them was being treated as a natural resource to be exploited.

‘I think there is a fundamental misalignment between the goals of this emergent economy and the goals of us as human beings,’ she said.

‘Although I’m worried for people, despairing for them does no good, it’s acting for them that does.

‘Each of us has a critical role to play in making this new economy safe and responsible.’

She said that those flouting the law should be punished according to the law, but those trying to do the right thing should be supported.


‘This is as much about culture change as it is anything else,’ she said.

‘I want the misuse and unethical use of data to be looked upon in the same way as other socially unacceptable behaviour, just like stealing my neighbour’s wallet.

‘Ignorance and negligence are not valid excuses for wrongdoing. We wouldn’t accept them in other parts of our lives and it is not acceptable when dealing with our data.’

She said that the new GDPR law, which came into effect in May last year, had aimed to improve the situation, but laws were not necessarily the answer. Instead it was important to change the public mindset.


‘What is stopping you from putting your hand into the pocket or bag of the person sitting next to you when they are distracted and taking their wallet?’ she asked the conference. ‘Is the only thing driving you not to the knowledge that section 1 of the 1968 Theft Act makes it a criminal offence? I am sure, too, that article 12 of the same act is ringing in your ears each time you resist the temptation to steal a car as you walk down the street.

‘Of course that’s not the case, it’s our sense of morality and knowing right from wrong that prevents us from stealing.’

Afterwards Mrs Martins commented on how data protection has shifted from being merely tolerated to actively embraced.

‘It was thrilling to be part of PrivSec this year, there was genuine excitement in the room when privacy activists Max Schrems and David Carroll took the stage and I’m so grateful to have witnessed that,’ she said.

‘It was humbling to represent our Bailiwick alongside global heavyweight organisations.

‘We should be proud, as a jurisdiction, that the international community is aware of the approach we’re taking towards effective, independent regulation that encourages our regulated community towards excellence and protects individuals’ rights.’

Juliet Pouteaux

By Juliet Pouteaux
News reporter

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