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European Project Probes Attitudes To Privacy

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

European attitudes to the trade-off between privacy and security are to be examined by a group of researchers

Privacy is becoming an increasingly sensitive subject in this age of social networks and CCTV systems, and a European funded project is looking to understand our attitudes towards privacy, balanced against the need for security.

The PRISMS project was officially launched on 1 February and will run until July 2015.

However the existence of the research only came to light this week when various media outlets highlighted the project, which is being undertaken by a research group located in Karlsruhe, Germany, namely the Fraunhofer ISI.

Privacy Perspective

PRISMS is an acronym that stands for “’PRIvacy and Security MirrorS:’ Towards a European Framework for Integrated Decision Making,” to give the project its official catchy moniker.

The project is being funded by the European Union, reportedly to the tune of 3.6m euros (£3m). It will survey 1,000 people in each of the 27 member states to build up a picture of our attitudes on privacy.

“The PRISMS project will analyse the traditional trade-off model between privacy and security and devise a more evidence-based perspective for reconciling privacy and security, trust and concern,” said the Fraunhofer Institute.

“It will examine how technologies aimed at enhancing security are subjecting citizens to an increasing amount of surveillance and, in many cases, causing infringements of privacy and fundamental rights,” it said.

Essentially the project will seek to understand our thoughts regarding privacy, and how this ties into the security issue. For example British citizens are regularly captured on CCTV systems, and companies are also starting to harvest personal data from social networking websites.

The project will use the survey results to “devise a decision support system providing users (those who deploy and operate security systems) insight into the pros and cons, constraints and limits of specific security investments compared to alternatives taking into account a wider society context.”

Besides the Fraunhofer ISI, the PRISMS project is being undertaken by a consortium of eight partners. The other partners are Trilateral Research & Consulting (UK), the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium), the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), the University of Edinburgh (UK), the Eötvös Károly Institute (Hungary), the Zuyd University of Applied Sciences (Netherlands) and the survey research organisation Ipsos MORI (UK).

Ongoing Debate

The debate over people’s privacy was famously kickstarted in January 2010 when Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, said that people no longer had an expectation of privacy thanks to the increasing uptake of social networking.

Since then the industry has become much more aware of privacy issues, and privacy remains very much in the headlines today.

Google’s new privacy policy changes for example are being investigated by European regulators as to whether they violate European law. EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding for one believes that Google’s changes violate European data laws by failing to consult consumers making the changes, among other complaints.

And German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently issued a stern warning to Google’s Eric Schmidt over the issue of privacy.

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