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“Convention 108: from a European reality to a global treaty”

Strasbourg , 

As delivered

Introduction: the importance of privacy

I’m delighted to welcome you all here today.

This time last week I was in Brussels for another Conference: on the future of the Internet.

The way in which technology can now connect people is extraordinary. And it is evolving all the time.

This, by and large, is a good thing: good for society, good for democracy, good for economic growth.

But it also raises big questions about power, and who has it.

Governments now have an unprecedented capacity for surveillance. And sometimes they need to use it to keep us safe.

Companies now have the unprecedented ability to use and share our personal information. And sometimes this means better products and services for us to enjoy.

But we must never become complacent about data protection and the right to privacy.

I find very worrying the idea that we are somehow entering a ‘post-privacy’ age.

Privacy is fundamental to individual liberty – protected under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

It is vital for keeping the powerful in check.

Around the world individuals continue to fight – and die – for it all the time.

And it is essential, in free and democratic societies, that we have robust and effective rules in place to protect privacy and our personal data – grounded in the law.

And that we work together to develop and implement these, at international level: the Internet crosses national borders, and so must we.

Convention 108: going from strength to strength

This task – of setting the right rules for privacy and implementing them – is becoming ever more challenging.

In particular, the growth in terrorism and cybercrime has forced us to re-evaluate the level of state intrusion we are willing to accept in our own lives, for the sake of our shared security.

This is not just true in Europe, but across the globe, and it is therefore extremely important that Convention 108 – the world’s only international, legally-binding data protection treaty – is going global.

Since its 30th anniversary 5 years ago, five new countries have joined, taking the total number to 48. That makes a full house of Council of Europe member states, and also Uruguay.

Four others have been invited to accede:

Morocco, Mauritius (who will officially accede today), Senegal and Tunisia. And our Committee of Ministers is currently considering the request to join made by Cape Verde.

I look forward to welcoming all of these countries as new parties to the Convention – and, I hope, many others represented here too.    

Modernising the Convention  

As you all know, our Ad hoc Committee on data protection met earlier this week.

 The Committee was set up by our member states as part of the process of modernising Convention 108.

Modernisation is required to ensure that the Convention continues to provide the right protection as technology moves on.

This includes, for example, the right to know why a decision made by a computer was taken about you, such as, for example, the non-attribution of a social benefit, even if that decision was taken by a highly sophisticated machine.

The Committee has also been looking at how to give more power to the independent authorities who oversee the national implementation of the law – to minimise the scope for political interference.

And the modernised Convention will enable the Committee of the Parties to assess compliance with its provisions.

The governments will now finalise this process, through our Committee of Ministers, and we hope that the revised text will be adopted by the end of the year.

The modernised Convention will continue to complement the EU’s data protection framework, and I’m very pleased that Convention 108 has the strong support of the European Union.

I am also pleased that we are now bringing business into the conversation about how to better implement it.

This will be part of the Council of Europe’s new forum to bring together national authorities and Internet companies to collaborate on promoting human rights online. Clearly the private sector has a major role to play.

Sum up:

So you can see that there is clear momentum behind this treaty. Convention 108 is going from strength to strength: evolving to reflect new realities; occupying a hugely important space in the landscape of international law; and it is exactly the right time for more states outside of Europe to consider joining it, and in doing so becoming firm partners in the global movement for privacy.

I’d like to thank you for making the journey to be here, particularly those who have travelled from further away.

I’d also like to thank Professor Greanleaf, whose idea it was to bring us together like this.

It is a very good opportunity and I hope you will help us keep the momentum going. And with that, I wish you a successful Conference and the best for your stay.