A fundamental right with expiry date?

International Conference, Vienna, 11th November 2002

Societies constantly change and so do individual and societal needs. Legal frameworks and basic rights guide and limit societal behaviour and at the same time adjust themselves in response to new and shifting needs. In times of permanent and rapid change we must ask whether the legal framework still meets societal needs and society's value basis. The widespread use of information- and communication technologies is one of the most important technological innovations influencing societies all over the world. Digitalisation, miniaturisation and networking are keywords of this development. Internet, e-commerce, mobile communication, smart card applications, biometrics, smart homes, and ubiquitous computing are generating huge amounts of data. The more activities in daily life are supported by electronic means the more data traces we leave behind. Virtual pictures of real persons may gain a life of themselves. Misuse of personal data, widespread surveillance and commercial interests increasingly give rise to new challenges for privacy. ICT constitute a permanent, more comprehensive and often unnoticeable threat to our privacy. On the other hand millions of people voluntarily create personal websites to present themselves to the whole community, many of them using webcams, and thousands try to participate in talk shows and reality TV broadcasts, where they often disclose intimacies to a broad audience.

These ambivalent societal developments, combined with technological progress, lead to the guiding question of this conference:

Is privacy a fundamental right with an expiry date?

In order to discuss recent developments in an interdisciplinary way the Institute of Technology Assessment (ITA) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences organises an international conference on this issue. High level experts will discuss topics like the philosophy of privacy, psychological and societal foundations, the history of basic rights, international right and policy, technical challenges and support for privacy as well as user requirements and attitudes.