Privacy as a Human Right reso on its way to passing

Here’s the title of the Resolution that passed out of the Seattle Public Safety committee today, and will go to a vote before council on Monday:

A RESOLUTION affirming the human right to privacy and expressing a desire that the policies and products of the City’s privacy initiative be consistent with the right to privacy as described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the applicable international human rights framework.

Here’s a link to the full text of the reso: http://seattle.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2363704&GUID=4957090B-B2EA-4A3A-A1AC-189ED215CDB4

This resolution started taking shape last year when Phil (Seattle Privacy vice president) and I gave feedback to the IT department and City Council about the Privacy Initiative (http://www.seattle.gov/information-technology/initiatives/privacy-initiative).

The principles that the city proposed to work from seemed to us to set their aspirations too low, because they discussed  privacy as a “data-management” issue rather than as a “human rights” issue. Something in our feedback caught the attention of Councilmember Harrell, and this resolution is the result.

This resolution essentially directs the Department of Information Technology to get cracking on the Privacy Initiative and to think about it in broader terms that simply protecting the city from litigation against data breaches. We heard from the CTO that the office expected and planned to have drafts of legislation this summer. Now that we are entering budget season, we can probably expect not to see new legislation coming out of the Privacy Initiative before September at the earliest.

Today I emailed the IT department for guesstimates about schedule, and will pass along any response I get. My guess is that there are a number of factors in play right now, not least among them the city’s upcoming move to district representation on the City Council. I’m not enough of a wonk to understand the impact that this change will have on groups like Seattle Privacy, which are city-wide and seek to address city-wide issues. In the past we have worked mostly with City Council members, and I’m guessing that we will need to work harder to get the attention of the Mayor’s office under the new system.

In general I’ve so far found the Mayor’s office to be less receptive to discussions about privacy than council, but I think more for lack of resources and public clamor than because of any ideological or political anti-privacy position.

At any rate, for now, this resolution is a win for privacy. In our excitement about the potential for the use of big data for social good, which I personally think is in fact hugely promising, we’ve forgotten certain hard-won lessons from human history. I’m glad to see every step we take toward remembering that privacy is a crucial component of human dignity, self-determination, and autonomy.

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