The Office for Personal Data Protection hosted the 19th edition of the biannual Case Handling Workshop that brought together more than 60 experts from 30 countries. Representatives from non-EU members (Switzerland, Croatia and Albania) were also invited. The event took place 12 – 13 March 2009 when Prague became a kind of a European capital of data protection. After the introductory speech from the host institution many delegates highly appreciated activities of the Czech data protection authority. The numerous presentations delivered by its staff positively echoed by the audience showed that the Office developed into a respected institution. And what have the negotiations yielded?
The workshop had four major topics on the agenda, the first being the relation between mass media and data protection. The speakers sought to find balance between the two rights entirely vital, yet often contradictory, in the democratic society, i.e. the right to freely retrieve and disseminate information and the right of privacy. It was agreed that not being able to find any generally acceptable solution cases had to be solved on ad-hoc basis. Journalists however should have respect for the private sphere. They ought to pay attention to accuracy of their information and try to achieve balance between their interests and those of the individual. Use of personal data declared by law as publicly accessible poses an especially interesting problem. Accessibility of these data and their effect multiplies when published in the media. In the praxis we have seen that priority is given to the needs of the media. This, combined with the relatively soft sanctions for the journalists has often led to inadequate intrusion on the individual´s privacy.
Next issue addressed by the workshop was the video surveillance. The Prague meeting focused mainly on the difficult question whether operation of video surveillance systems called for new legislation or the existing regulation would do. It was stated that the current legislation is satisfactory in general terms, but particular problems could arise in relation to workplace monitoring or installation of cameras in public spaces. The purpose must always be specified and operators should bear in mind human dignity. It would be most appalling if the monitoring took place in cloak-rooms, toilettes, lifts and similar areas. The delegates underlined that also here data subjects have the right of access to their personal data as well as the right to obtain information about the monitoring. In spite of an intensive and long discussion many aspects remained open and so video surveillance would most likely reappear on the next workshop´s agenda in autumn.
Third agenda item concerned the processing of employee data. All speakers underlined in their contributions the need for observance of the adequacy principle even in cases of alcohol or drug tests. We should not resign on workplace privacy. Data subjects´ consent with data processing is a very sensitive matter in this respect. Quite a number of employers seek the consent with the intention to make legal the apparently superfluous gathering of personal data on their staff.
In the section devoted to health data representatives from several data protection authorities introduced specific activities developed in this area. The participants took the opportunity and exchanged views on matters of common interest or hot issues such as the DNA, processing of personal data by charities, or divulgation of data on the Internet. Notwithstanding that the two-day meeting ended on Friday 13th, all participants appreciated its outcomes. Finally, the Cypriote delegation heartily invited everybody to their country to attend the autumn edition of the Case Handling Workshop.
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