The 8th edition of the international conference CPDP took place in Brussels on 21, 22 and 23 January 2015, welcoming a record number of 1,000 participants. This year’s conference was attended by top representatives from the fields of business, politics and science from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world. To the question whether the event – once starting out small-scale in the rooms of Flemish-Dutch house of culture deBuren (with participants sitting with their backs to the wall, laptops on the floor) and now having moved to the bigger Les Halles de Schaerbeek complex – had hit its ceiling, CPDP key figure Paul De Hert responded that the new location could easily accommodate another 200.
The three-day conference offers multiple parallel sessions in four different venues of varying sizes. Each of these panels is organised by either CPDP or one of its partners. Panels last 75 minutes and have four speakers (maximum speaking time of 12 minutes each), a moderator and a chair. I chaired a panel on the balance between freedom of speech and online privacy, consisting of Marco Pancini (Google Brussels), Argyro Karanasiou (Bournemouth University), Bart van der Sloot (University of Amsterdam) and Magdelena Jozwiak (VU University Amsterdam) as speakers and Tijmen Wisman (VU University Amsterdam) as moderator. My position as ‘silent chair’ was a bit unusual: after a brief introduction I was expected to remain silent. Last year that role initially sounded particularly unappealing to me, but on a panel moderated by Ian Brown (Oxford Internet Institute) I quite enjoyed ‘sitting back and relaxing’, merely keeping an eye on the time and listening to the discussions on the substance.
The organisation closely monitors the well-balanced composition of the panels (background, gender, geography, organisation, etc.). On 28 October 2014 I received an email stating ‘I am informed by the organising committee that the organising institution cannot have the two roles of chair and moderator.’ Although I had not yet signed my contract with the firm, it didn’t take me long to respond: ‘No problem, please mention my affiliation as Of Counsel to SOLV Advocaten.’
The cap in the photo bears the name and logo of FRA, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights inaugurated in 2007 (not to be confused with the Swedish equivalent of the NSA, Försvarets radioanstalt). It caught my eye and when I picked it up and Ronald Leenes said to me ‘that means you’ll have to wear it’, I thought to myself ‘well, why not’. I was the only one. Mario Oetheimer, Head of FRA’s Information Society, Privacy and Data Protection Sector, thanked me at the end of the day, stating that quite a few people had asked him earlier whether the FRA was paying me for it. Never before have I attended a conference wearing a cap, but it may well be a great way to secure a sponsor :-)