Speaking to the Guardian, Cannataci — who doesn’t own a Facebook account or use Twitter — lambasted the oversight of British digital surveillance as “a rather bad joke at its citizens’ expense”.
Warning against the steady erosion of privacy and increasing levels of government intrusion, he also drew sinister parallels with Orwell’s vision of a mass-surveilled society, adding that today’s reality was far worse than the fiction: “At least Winston [a character in Orwell’s 1984] was able to go out in the countryside and go under a tree and expect there wouldn’t be any screen, as it was called. Whereas today there are many parts of the English countryside where there are more cameras than George Orwell could ever have imagined.”
Cannataci, who holds posts as a professor of technology of law at the University of Groningen, and as head of the department of Information Policy and Governance at the University of Malta, also called for a “Geneva convention-style law” for the internet.
“Some people may not want to buy into it. But you know, if one takes the attitude that some countries will not play ball, then, for example, the chemical weapons agreement would never have come about.”
As part of his new role — which elevates digital privacy to the same level of importance as other human rights — Cannataci has vowed to begin systematically reviewing government policies and the business models of large corporations, which he accuses of “very often taking the data that you never even knew they were taking”.
Although the privacy chief admits that his mandate is more than likely “impossible to achieve in the next three years”, he stressed the importance of a “longer-term view” in an effort to help protect people’s data and safeguard their digital rights.