On March 13th the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) adopted Declaration 2/2019 on the use of personal data in the course of political campaigns. In its Declaration the EDPB addresses a sensitive issue which has recently received particular attention in the European context.
This concerns the critical issues previously pointed out by the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) in its Opinion of 3/2018 on line manipulation and personal data, dated March 19th 2018. The data protection authorities in Spain, Belgium, France, Ireland, Poland and Great Britain have also gone in the same direction in adopting recommendations and guidelines which stress the same concerns outlined by the EDPS.
The debate centres on the potential risks connected to the exploitation of vast amounts of personal data which may be used to manipulate voters’ choices. The aim seems to be that of guaranteeing greater transparency and strict respect for European rules and values to prevent these potential risks.
The Council of Europe Commitee of Ministers also presented similar arguments in its Declaration on the manipulative capabilities of algorythmic processes adopted on February 13th 2019 which focuses on the risk of manipulation based on data-processing.
This new attention to the protection of personal data can also be related to the serious concerns caused by the scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, the on line marketing company accused of using huge amounts of personal data collected from Facebook to influence individuals’ political behaviour.
Although it is not straightforward to understand the specific means and mechanisms used to alter individuals’opinions, choices and actions, the attention devoted to this question by European istitutions and national authorities leads to certain considerations. And this attention has been increasing in the run-up to the forthcoming European elections to be held this May.
Most recently the European Data Protection Board has also become involved in this debate with its Statement of 2/2019 which states: “Political parties, political coalitions and candidates increasingly rely on personal data and sophisticated profiling techniques to monitor and target voters and opinion leaders. In practice, individuals receive highly personalised messages and information, especially on social media platforms, on the basis of personal interests, lifestyle habits and values.”. The EDPB follows noting that “Predictive tools are used to classify or profile people’s personality traits, characteristics, mood and other points of leverage to a large extent, allowing assumptions to be made about deep personality traits, including political views and other special categories of data. The extension of such data processing techniques to political purposes poses serious risks, not only to the rights to privacy and to data protection, but also to trust in the integrity of the democratic process.”.
So, the debate seems to be finally fully underway and the aim appears to be to guarantee the highest possible level of transparency and the full respect of individuals’ rights. The purpose of this is to prevent a climate of mistrust which might well hinder creating the trust that the GDPR so hopes to build.