In recent years, there has been growing public debate and heavy focus on various data ethical issues resulting from the use of digital solutions and data. However, technological development raises a number of ethical dilemmas, for example with respect to privacy, transparency and legal certainty when using algorithms.
Data ethical issues arise in connection with the use of data by both private companies and public authorities.
The technological possibilities are very beneficial to society, and without technological development we would not have the society that we have today. As a guiding rule, the use of data - within the framework of the law - is vital for the development of society. Thus, in many ways, the use of data contributes to ensuring an efficient and functional public administration for the benefit of us all, as well as a functional private sector in a digitized world.
Digitization and data use hold enormous potential for growth and innovation and enable the development of new services and products not previously seen. It is, however, a precondition for realizing this potential that society trusts that the new technologies and data are used in a responsible manner.
Support for a responsible approach to the use of data by companies may promote supply and demand for increased transparency in the companies’ handling and use of data. The intention is for a data ethics council to ensure continuous focus on data ethical issues in relation to companies’ use of data.
Data is also a vital resource for public authorities to ensure an efficient public sector. Personal data may, for example, help caseworkers make the right decisions, support healthcare professionals in the choice of treatment strategies, decide simple cases immediately with digital aids and support the delivery of good personal service by the public sector.
With increasing data volumes and important technological development, the possibilities for processing and using data have also improved. New technologies enable both the public sector and other players to make better use of personal data than previously.
It is, however, a precondition for better data use in the public sector that citizens trust the handling of personal data by the public sector. In this connection, informed debates on data ethical subjects, recognising the disadvantages as well as the advantages of using data and new technologies, for example when using large data volumes, may contribute to promoting trust in the public sector.
Delimitation and co-operation interfaces
Data ethics should generally be understood as the ethical dimension of the relationship between technology, on the one hand, and citizens’ fundamental rights, legal certainty and the fundamental values of society on the other, to which technological development gives rise. The concept includes ethical issues associated with the use of data.
Data ethics also comprise data that are not personal data. This could, for example, be the avoidance of bias in training data for use in machine learning, avoidance of design for dependency or general use of new data possibilities within, for example, the insurance business, or the use of robots in customer service departments, etc. However, a common characteristic of such data processing is that, in the end, it will often be about people.
The intention is for the Data Ethics Council to monitor developments within data ethical issues with a view to the development and support, in an ethically responsible manner, of the many advantages offered by the use of data. The Council will thus discuss how to ensure in the future that the enormous technological possibilities are realized in a way that serves the common general objectives that we have set up as a society.
An example of this is a general use of data and technology where the use of data and technology, while, of course, remaining within the framework of the law, involves significant deliberations on conflicting considerations of the citizens’ fundamental rights, legal certainty or fundamental values of society.
There are already national and international rules that aim to protect the citizens’ privacy. The General Data Protection Regulation, which entered into force on 25 May 2018 in Denmark and the rest of the EU, is an important set of rules.
The Data Ethical Council will not discuss legal issues in the legislation. This also means that the intention is not for the Data Ethics Council to take a direct or indirect position on individual cases or on whether applicable law has been observed. The Council will, therefore, not take over tasks from regulatory authorities, including especially the Danish Data Protection Agency, which, pursuant to the legislation, have competence to ensure compliance with the law.
One example is that the Data Ethics Council will not express an opinion on good data processing practice under the General Data Protection Regulation in the wake of a case pending with the Danish Data Protection Agency. However, the Data Ethics Council may express a general opinion on the use of a certain technology, even if this technology is involved in a specific case.
Furthermore, the Data Ethics Council will not be able to take a direct or indirect position on research projects being administered in the research ethics committee system. The purpose of the committee system is to ensure that health research projects are conducted in an ethically responsible manner and to consider applications for research projects.
The Data Ethics Council will have to co-operate with the Danish Council on Ethics (Det Etiske Råd) for the purpose of ensuring a boost within the ethics area through co-operation and dialogue and avoiding double work or unnecessary overlap of activities in the councils.
By establishing the Data Ethics Council, it will be possible to have the new council consider general ethical issues on data, while the Danish Council on Ethics will still be able to consider similar ethical issues concerning, for example, research in health data and collection of health information.