Dokumentation des Forum Privatheit-Panels auf der CPDP: Is there right for offline alternatives in a digital world?

Is there right for offline alternatives in a digital world?


Forum Privatheit Panel auf der CPDP 2016




Fotos:  Michael Friedewald

Panel-Beschreibung und weitere Informationen


“Computers, Privacy and Data Protection 2016 (CPDP)”

Panel: “Is there right for offline alternatives in a digital world?

Short Panel description:

Recent development in ubiquitous or pervasive computing have led to changes in established technologies: we have been using television or cars for decades but now they are enhanced with new services and capabilities based on networked information technologies. At the same time, this introduces substantial risks for the users’ privacy and data protection. However, these risks are often hard to notice. Design strategies in pervasive computing are based on the idea that information technology merges into the background and provides the users a seamless transition from the experience and practices they are used to. In many cases nothing changes at all: a plug socket still simply provides electricity if a ‘smart’ grid is running in the background. Yet, this is a qualitatively different infrastructure for a time in which decentralized power production is becoming ever more common — and which enables all kinds of detailed surveillance. Thus claims for a right to network-free or “offline” alternatives of widespread technologies arise. Offline technology would preclude the risks for privacy and also evade the imposition of having to navigate complex system settings to disable services one never wanted in the first place. But even today it is difficult to find a state of the art TV set without networking capabilities. Rather than letting the market decide and make those offline alternatives a luxury for the few, one could argue for a right to have an alternative, particularly for technologies that have been working without data connectivity for a long time, like television, cars, or public transport.

Resources of individuality and informational self-determination are not only situated in the subject itself, but also in the freedom to choose a space of experience that is not structured by information technologies. Qualities of a network-free area are its insularity and its limitation to the local situation. In opposition, a networked world foregrounds interaction and participation in public communication. Offline products promise the absence of control, but also the absence of a public sphere as well as avoiding the demands by an omnipresent digital network. In this way they fulfill the right not to communicate.

At the same time, claiming a network-free alternative may be selfish, antisocial or irresponsible. For example, assistance systems in cars promise to make driving much safer. Insisting on an offline alternative would then amount to insisting on a right to human fallibility compared to much safer IT based systems. Important infrastructure like water, electricity, or public transport cannot be provided at an individualized level of pervasion with new technologies. Thus there are good reasons not just for a lack of offline alternatives but for actively proscribing them. The panel will address the advantages and problems of a right to offline alternatives. It will discuss regulatory perspectives that could enable such a right or oppose it as well as the potential for technological problems and solutions.


Brent Mittelstadt, Oxford Internet Institute (UK)


  1. Ero Balsa, KU Leuven (BE)
  2. Katleen Gabriels, VUB (BE)
  3. Hille Koskela, University of Turku (FI)
  4. Carsten Ochs, University of Kassel (DE), Forum Privatheit


Tobias Matzner, University of Tübingen (DE), Forum Privatheit

CPDP-Website: CPDP


27 - 29 Jan 2016


8:00 - 18:00


Rue Royale-Sainte-Marie 22,B-1030 Brussels, Belgium

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