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Can we use your data?

How can you put data to good use while respecting users’ concerns about their personal data protection? It’s a question that many projects are confronted with when digging into all kinds of data sources.

Already, big data is triggering innovation across different sectors in Europe. Businesses in the retail sector, for instance, started looking into big data early on to tailor their products. Researchers across Europe use data to crack the nut on societal, scientific and other issues. Journalists and media are discovering data tools to find stories and understand the bigger picture.

But citizens’ concerns on data usage have skyrocketed at the same time.

Revelations made by Edward Snowden in 2013 showed that government agencies were snooping on citizens’ data. It led to a huge public debate on big data and the Orwellian effects of algorithms controlling our behaviour (illustrated by The Guardian’s piece titled ‘How algorithms rule the world’). The debate on the virtues and dangers of big data also confronted European policymakers with a challenge to better protect the privacy of their citizens.

On Wednesday 4 February, the Irish data research consortium Insight pitched a ‘Magna Carta for Data‘ to EU policy-makers: a set of basic principles to guide new lawmaking on data, data protection and the benefits of big data analysis.

It’s a search for a society-wide consensus on the treatment of data. It could guide the way industries use this information and what applications it can have for society, the researchers argued.

EU Community was present at the conference.

A Magna Carta for Data means: striking a balance between data analysis benefits & data protection. #MagnaCartaforData @insight_centre #data

— EU Community (@EU_Community) February 4, 2015

So what does this mean for EU Community, our project which aims to connect the dots and put to use open and public data sources to facilitate the understanding of European policy-making.

Last week, we launched EurActory, the first tool to identify relevant EU experts. Ever since we started designing the tool in early 2014, we have spoken to many users who asked us why they would want to connect their social media accounts to their expert profile. Why they would grant us insights into their connections on Twitter, for instance, or why we wanted to access their details on LinkedIn.

EU Community has been aware of the great sensitivity that comes with designing a platform based on social media and other data.

How about this: we present our set of basic principles that ensure your data is used in correct ways.

  1. No personal data are processed for purposes other than the purpose for which they are collected. All data used by EU Community for analysis is used with the single purpose: to evaluate a policy-maker, policy influencer, policy analyst or policy document’s relevance on an area of EU policy.
  2. Our database is encrypted and secure. Your private data will not be accessible to external users, as it’s kept under lock and key.
  3. Public data is public, private data is private. Users visiting your EurActory profile will never see more in the LinkedIn box or the Twitter box than what they’d see when they visit your Twitter wall or LinkedIn profile. It’s up to you whether you want to link your account(s) to EurActory.
  4. Your personal data will not be collected nor retained beyond the minimum necessary for each specific purpose of the processing. EU Community’s philosophy is to connect the dots of public information elsewhere. This means we store very little information but rather ask other services for an update every so often. That counts for personal data, too.
  5. Your personal data will not be (1) disseminated to commercial third parties, (2) sold or (3) rented out. We have a Chinese wall set up between what’s publicly accessible and accessible via the API on the one side, and what’s personal or private on the other. Anything that has to do with commercial activities finds itself on the former side.

This list is inspired by the European Parliament’s proposed rules on processing personal data (which is pending Council’s approval) and the UK’s Data Protection Principles (which were passed in – yes – 1998).

Share your thoughts: what are the basic principles that should guide data use and data protection in Europe? And what would you add to our list?

  • Share your comments below
  • Email communitymanager [at] euractiv [dot] com
  • Tweet @EU_Community using #expertinput

We thank all the users and experts that contacted us on this issue and guide our understanding of the balance between needs and concerns on data.

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