Of data protection and privacy in Greece – 2024 version

 Matters of privacy and of data protection have never been of high importance in Greek public debate nor of high relevance to the functioning of its political system. Truth be told, extensive lip service is paid to data protection as a significant value in our times – from political worthies, the judicial system, the media, you name it! But when a Watergate-style and -size scandal erupted in 2022, with Predator-based eavesdropping joined by normalized surveillance on part of the National Intelligence Service /EYP, public interest lasted just for a matter of weeks; the official line consisted in denying any sort of responsibility (having just dumped, unceremoniously, a close aide/relative of Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis); the judicial probe to the matter proved quite perfunctory and no real outcome has transpired to this date.

So, it was interesting to follow the high-visibility colloquium organized by the Greek Data Protection Authority, to honour the European Data Protection Day (celebrated for the 18th successive year) as established by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, with the aim to increase public awareness of privacy matters.

Former Prime Minister Costas Simitis addressed the audience – a message of his was read since he could not attend in person. It was in the Simitis years that matters of data protection got their institutional foundation. Simitis’ own brother Spyros served as Datenchutzer in Germany ever since the mid-Seventies, long before issues of privacy became a focal point of European interest, Costas Simitis noted: “The Data Protection Authority has to face constantly new issues, to respond to demands resulting from the rapid evolution of technology as in the case of artificial intelligence. Applying the law, the Authority should preserve the autonomy of citizens […] and reach a balance between making use of innovation and protecting fundamental social and constitutional rights and principles like equality and human values”.

Which sounds, high-principled and lofty indeed – as did G. Floridis, Minister for Justice when he observed: “Societies have the brainpower, principles and institutions than can guarantee that the growth of artificial intelligence will allow for humankind to gain from its many positive effects while limiting any negative consequences that may result”.

But the Chairman of the Greek Data Protection Authority, retired – and highly regarded – judge Costas Menoudakos introduced a measure of hard landing. Having praised the work of independent authorities active in the field of data protection, confidentiality in communications etc., with important penalties imposed in high-visibility violations, he shifted to the resources needed to keep track of the digital age challenges privacy has to face nowadays. Most important he concluded by pointing to “the extremely restricted size of the (Authority’s) staff, which is inversely proportional to its remit and to the complexity of issues to be dealt with […] as well as to the expectations of part of today’s citizens”. As with the kid who told the truth about the emperor’s exquisite new clothes, by exclaiming: “The emperor is naked!”.