Editorial: toying with trust

Health data breach.

PHOTO: signix.com

The world is taking tiger leaps towards less privacy. Personal data and the databases compiled thereof are valuable capital when possessing the technology to process it in huge amounts and in various ways, converting the results into new services and money.

In our ordinary lives we encounter that daily, and even those who for whatever reason never use a computer or the Internet still carry client cards from shops selling shoes or building materials. Though they promise us the data will not be released to third parties, the systems often come with keyholes allowing people to peek. Partly, it’s because people neglect to look at the additional clauses – intentionally in fine print.

With states collecting personal data citing security, they may cross some borders. How far, was widely debated in the Edward Snowden and NSA case. Also critical for nations are data regarding public health. If the aim is lengthening active working age, a prerequisite would be ever improving health care services. To provide that, data needs to be collected and analysed. The more data, the greater the effectiveness. This is the principle for the cancer screening register as set forth in today’s Postimees – gleaning data from other databases, using the X-Road data exchange layer.

By nature, we are sceptical regarding the collection of data. Partly, this is due to the totalitarian heritage where KGB collected and processed data... and afterwards the people. Meanwhile, we might trust a democracy. As opined by Tiit Pruuli, a writer and entrepreneur, in Postimees in light of the NSA/Snowden case: I don’t want my /…/ loved ones to be blown up or shot dead by somebody. And, in the name of that, I am willing to let the secret services of democratic states to fumble through my inboxes, BF accounts and Internet history.»

This year, a Tallinn University of Technology professor Thomas Hollstein told the science portal Novaator: desiring to strengthen democracy, as supporters of democracy we need to require that privacy and security be honoured. In our e-state, this should be strictly followed be the aim however noble. People need to be explicitly explained where, why, and to which degree their data is being used, and it cannot be that they promise a thing and do something else. A democracy cannot afford keyholes and lies. People need to always retain the right to withdraw the permission to process their data.

Missteps at data processing and broken promises are detrimental to trustworthiness of the state and hamper innovation.

Estonian Gene Bank, called into being and thought to Estonia’s Nokia initially intended to amass 100,000 genetic samples in three years on voluntary basis. During a period five times longer, less than half of that were collected.  

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