‘Privacy 2030’, Giovanni Buttarelli’s ‘manifesto’
My presentation of ‘Privacy 2030: A vision for Europe’ at IAPP Data Protection Congress, Brussels, 21 November 2019
What would Giovanni have said if he was still with us?
Well, first of all he would have noted that this event has coincided precisely with the
future-fictional setting of Bladerunner.
Now here we are, Brussels, 21 November 2019, and reports of imminent tech dystopia
are greatly exaggerated; at least in Belgium.
Shortly after Giovanni asked me to work for him, I would learn that there were three
moments in the now very congested privacy calendar where he would want to shake
things up, say something new – qualcosa di fico.
Two of these moments were IAPP moments: in springtime Washington DC around time
the cherry blossom briefly adorn the National Mall; and here in grey, soggy, autumnal
Brussels, when the people take refuge in cafes and strong dark beers.
Trevor Hughes and Omer Tene would always offer Giovanni a platform for his insights,
and it spoke to a deep mutual affection between them.
A year ago, he was here and announced his intention to publish a manifesto on the
future of privacy and digital society, looking beyond the GDPR.
So he would be grateful to the IAPP for publishing this week ‘Privacy 2030: A Vision for
Europe’, and to his seven eminent ‘fellow travellers’ – Omer, Maria Farrell, Malavika
Jayaram, Jules Polentsky, Rocco Panetta, Marc Rotenberg and Shoshana Zuboff – for
contributing their own reflections on the big theme.
He would have been moved that the first lecture in his memory would be delivered by
Commissioner – soon to be Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager.
There was a special chemistry between these two great thought leaders, though they
come from very different backgrounds, at opposite ends of Europe. It is clear that much
of what he believed in will be continued by her as she tackles the huge challenges ahead.
Giovanni’s three children Serena, Gianluca and Eleonora are with us today, and in their
charming company you sense their father’s calmness, lucidity and Sphinx-like
inscrutability, in this still traumatic period of coming to terms with such a loss.
Among the myriad Buttarelli awards, foundations and even meeting rooms being
proposed, it is Serena, Gianluca and Eleonora who will be the ultimate custodians of
their father’s legacy. And I want to thank them for their moral support in this project.
The manifesto is a meditation on the big challenges and a call to action.
It talks about the power of big companies and governments to do things with data and
technology. And it talks about the vulnerabilities of children, low paid workers,
migrants who have those things done to them.
It makes the link between digitisation and the environmental crisis. Our insatiable
enthusiasm for throwaway devices and generating more and more data is actually
increasing our carbon and biodiversity footprint precisely at the moment we are
supposed to be urgently reducing it.
It proposes ways the EU can empower people and address genuine social and
It reflects what you could call ‘late style’ Buttarelli.
‘Late style’ in an artist is when she ‘constructs an alternative universe which somehow
helps us understood the world we live in now.’ If you read his blogposts, speeches and interviews over recent years, you see that
Giovanni wanted to call out things that were wrong.
But, at the same time, he retained a fervent pragmatic optimism for an alternative
future, and especially for the role of Europe in constructing it.
It may be the fate of most manifestos never to be implemented – but the good ones will
at least get people talking.
And indeed, the one instruction he gave me was to be provocative.
He warned that unless it made the cover of Time magazine, I would have failed and
could pack up my belongings and leave the building.
Well, Giovanni, if you’re listening it has not yet made Time magazine, though it has
featured in the latest MLEX data and security daily briefing. Baby steps.
So this is my last ghost-written tribute to Giovanni. And the best tribute I can offer him
is to help keep you talking about him long after he is gone.
I hope his manifesto will do just that.