Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin: Privacy Needs to Be the Default, Not an Option

Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin: Privacy Needs to Be the Default, Not an Option
By Mark Halper
Jun 25 2015

Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin has a wake-up call for the world’s digital citizens: Beware of the tech giants lurking behind your screens and keyboards. Falque-Pierrotin—current head of France’s CNIL (National Commission on Informatics and Liberty) and the  “Article 29 Working Party,” a group of European Union data-protection advocates—believes we are sleepily handing over personal data in droves without truly understanding the consequences. Comprehensive privacy protection should be an enforced requirement, she argues, not just an “opt-in” afterthought.

Google, not surprisingly, remains in her crosshairs. Last year, CNIL fined the company for violating French privacy protocols. This month, CNIL threatened again to fine Google for failing to comply fully with a year-old EU order to grant Internet users the “right to be forgotten”—a controversial idea that some influencers, including Tim Berners-Lee, oppose. The 55-year-old privacy crusader also believes that U.S. companies are not holding up their end of the EU’s “Safe Harbor” agreement that allows U.S. companies to store data on European citizens provided they protect it.

We spoke with Falque-Pierrotin shortly after CNIL gave Google 15 days to comply with the “right to be forgotten” order about the need to create and implement greater privacy protections globally, and to restore the balance of power between the Web giants and their billions of users.

What excites you most about where tech is leading humankind?

I am thrilled because technology has never been so powerful and so available. I believe that it will be able to replace, improve, outsource even most of our actions or thoughts.

What worries you the most?

So, in parts , we could be replaced by machines. But no machine can replace humans as a unique combination of a body and spirit, a combination wherein lies the soul.

CNIL has recently charged Google with failing to comply with the EU order to allow delisting. If they don’t comply, will your sanctions have teeth?

Well I’m afraid they will have short teeth because financially until now we are able to [fine] only €150,000, [which] is what we did previously toward Google with privacy policy. Which is very small. We also have the possibility to have the decision made public, which [is] probably the worst for them. But the problem behind this right to be forgotten, it’s not only the question of how high the fines will be, it’s a principle question—the scope of the delisting on a worldwide treatment.

So how can you and others enforce this?

Even if in France we have rather low levels of sanctions, others in Europe have higher ones. For instance, Spain, Netherlands, Italy, had imposed much higher fines on Google for the privacy policy.

Every time we push a button on our keyboard we’re releasing valuable information. Yet we all seem hooked.

Oh yeah, absolutely. I think that we all have to be aware that when we are criticizing the surveillance by public authorities and by whomever, in fact we are part of this device. It’s difficult, because we don’t want to change really drastically our habits of life which are providing us with huge services. It’s very convenient. So the question is actually, how do you keep to that standard and comfort, while realizing that you’re not just an object in this digital infrastructure?



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