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"Data enhances crisis awareness, but technology is not a panacea." / „Daten verbessern das Krisenverständnis, aber Technologie ist kein Allheilmittel.“

Press/Media: Expert CommentProfessional


Today is Friday, June 19, 2020, I am Erich Marks and, as Managing Director of the German Prevention Day, I am pleased about your interest in our interim calls for prevention.

I would like to welcome the lawyer and philosopher Professor Dr. Oskar Josef Gstrein on the telephone. Since his highly acclaimed dissertation entitled "The right to be forgotten as a human right: does human dignity have a future in the information age? He is currently working as an assistant professor at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

Mr. Gstrein, I would like to welcome you warmly, thank you for your readiness to make this interjection and may I first ask you which challenges for violence and prevention work you currently consider to be particularly important.

In the current situation it is particularly important to me to point out that the use of large amounts of data ('Big Data') is not a solution in itself. Data improves the understanding of crises, but technology is not a panacea. It is probably precisely because of the faster and improved understanding of complex interrelationships that we have the chance to deal with a pandemic better than previous generations. But the increased complexity of information gathering and processing can also lead to setting the wrong priorities and focusing on the wrong things at the wrong time. Data must be understood in the right context, and that requires expertise and experience.

Your special focus is on human and civil rights?

I see human and civil rights as historical experience, which have become the cornerstones of our society because of their importance. In times of stability and supposed material prosperity, they appear to some as ballast that makes unnecessary demands. But when things change quickly and unpredictably - as in recent weeks and months - they allow us to put events into context. The art here is to adapt these abstract values concretely to the respective situation and make them the basis of new strategies for sustainable crisis management. This is especially exciting when it comes to the use of new technologies, but there are also some historical experiences that can be taken into account. For example, the current situation with the discussions about the creation of new monitoring systems (contact tracing etc.) is also reminiscent of the situation after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in September 2001. Some things were also introduced in a hurry, which kept us all busy longer than the actual threat was long gone.

You therefore emphasise the right to data protection, privacy, also and especially with regard to technological developments?

Of course it is true that no one has an absolute right to privacy or data protection. However, I also think that this statement does not bring us much new knowledge. In general, pseudo-economic considerations in the sense of 'a little less privacy results in a little more security; in these circumstances, one must call for solidarity' should be avoided. In the second half of the 20th century, societies in many Western countries have thus been able to do both excellently. We are relatively free in a relatively secure society. This is not always perfect and there is usually room for improvement. However, it is also a great good that can by no means be taken for granted and that we must constantly work for. This is especially true when it comes to the development and application of new technologies, as this in turn calls for an examination of the actual purpose and proportionate application. Otherwise a safe application in a free society is not guaranteed.


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