Europe’s data protection supervisor, Giovanni Buttarelli, has died.
His passing yesterday, aged 62, was announced by his office today — which writes:
It is with the deepest regret that we announce the loss of Giovanni Buttarelli, the European Data Protection Supervisor. Giovanni passed away surrounded by his family in Italy, last night, 20 August 2019.
We are all profoundly saddened by this tragic loss of such a kind and brilliant individual. Throughout his life Giovanni dedicated himself completely to his family, to the service of the judiciary and the European Union and its values. His passion and intelligence will ensure an enduring and unique legacy for the institution of the EDPS and for all people whose lives were touched by him.
Buttarelli was appointed to the key oversight role monitoring the implementation of EU privacy rules for a five year term, starting in December 2014.
Among his achievements in the post was overseeing the transition to a new comprehensive data protection framework, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force last year — a shift of gear towards enforcement that has shone a global spotlight on the bloc’s approach to privacy at a time when the implications of not putting meaningful checks on data-mining giants are writ large across Western democracies.
The jury is still out on how effectively Europe’s regulators will enforce the GDPR against powerful platform giants but a large number of open investigations are now pending.
Buttarelli also personally pressed the case for regulators to collectively grasp the nettle — to tackle what he described as “real cases like that of Facebook’s terms of service”.
At the same time as working for a consistent and comprehensive application of the GDPR, he believed further interventions would be needed to steer the application of powerful technologies in a fair and ethical direction.
This included advocating for greater joint working between privacy and competition regulators — calling for them to “adopt a position on the intersection of consumer protection, competition rules and data protection” and use “structural remedies to make the digital market fairer for people”.
He has also sought to accelerate innovation and debate around data ethics, which was the theme of a major privacy conference he hosted last year.
In an interview with TechCrunch last year he warned that laws alone won’t stop data being used to discriminate unfairly — while asserting that online discrimination “is not the kind of democracy we deserve”.
The sad news of Buttarelli’s passing has shocked the data protection community — which has responded with an outpouring of tributes on social media.
Prior to joining the European Commission, Buttarelli was secretary general of Italy’s data protection watchdog.
He also served for many years as a judge in his home country.