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Data watchdogs write then bury transparency plan

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November's meeting, electric with a sense of destiny and alive with bold talk about how emerging surveillance technologies could herald the re-emergence of totalitarian regimes, produced a statement called "Communicating Data Protection and Making it More Effective."

(The world's information commissioners have their backs to the wall. And the most important declaration they make all year is little more than a PR strategy).

The London declaration, which to be fair was a "first step...to develop a need to communicate better and make data protection more effective", had been inspired by a speech given by Alex Turk, the president of the French data protection office in 2003.

Turk had talked about the need to help people understand what their "fundamental rights" were because their ignorance of privacy issues represented an "underlying threat to fundamental liberties".

People understand what you mean when you talk about curtailing the freedom of the press, he said. They might get pretty emotional if you threaten to limit their freedom of movement. But they can't quite get their heads around the idea that its important to protect the privacy of their personal data.

All the while, European states are pressing ahead with things like DNA databases without any coherent opposition or scrutiny. And while a two-speed Europe might not be deemed acceptable when it concerned political integration, it was progressing quite happily in matters of law enforcement, or the piecemeal encroachment on these elusive "fundamental liberties".

"One finds oneself alone in the face of an executive which will explain to you that it can't understand your cries of indignation at what they propose," said Turk, "Quite recently, a member of the executive in Paris told me not to worry about the subject of DNA records, because we are retaining a thousand times fewer than the British. To which I responded, 'that's a fine affair'." ®

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