Ubiquitous Computing, Privacy and Data Protection: Options and Limitations to Reconcile the Unprecedented Contradictions

  • Johann Čas


The emerging paradigm of ubiquitous computing promises unprecedented levels of support of human activities by information technologies working invisibly in the background and providing their services in an unobtrusive and effortless manner. At the same time, these systems will bring about so far inconceivable levels of surveillance, collection of personal data, their merging and continuous transfer and processing, creating unprecedented threats to privacy and data protection. As a consequence ubiquitous computing is also challenging central human values that are affiliated to privacy, embracing items like individual autonomy, democracy or societal sustainability. The inherent threats to privacy have been recognised from the very beginning of the development of this vision and numerous attempts have been undertaken to reconcile the obviously conflicting objectives of ubiquitous computing and the principles of current data protection. The core of contemporary data protection is based on a general limitation of the generation, processing and use of personally identifiable data, supplemented by sets of rules which define exceptions from the general prohibition and regulate these specific cases. A major stream of efforts to preserve privacy under the new technological regime focused on the integration of privacy protection principles into ubiquitous computing technologies; in more recent times, the suitability of current regulatory framework for the emerging new paradigm of information technologies moved closer to the centre of attention. Both directions, the development of privacy enhancing, ubiquitous computing technologies and adaptations of legislation to accommodate the enormous threats for privacy possess certain mitigating potentials, but are either insufficient or incompatible with the core objectives of the new technical paradigm. Measures that are sufficient to confront the vision of ubiquitous computing with more than an illusion of privacy will probably also require changes in the paradigm of current data protection principles and a reshaping of the vision towards societal sustainability.


Personal Data Data Protection Ubiquitous Computing Privacy Protection Data Subject 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Adams, A. and M.A. Sasse. “Privacy in Multimedia Communications: Protecting Users, Not Just Data.” In People and Computers XV – Interaction Without Frontiers. Joint Proceedings of HCI2001, edited by A. Blandford and J. Vanderdonkt 2001. Springer Verlag, London.Google Scholar
  2. Article 29 – Data Protection Working Party. “Working Document on Data Protection Issues Related to RFID Technology.” (The European Commission, 2005).Google Scholar
  3. Victoria Bellotti and Abigail Sellen. “Design for Privacy in Ubiquitous Computing Environments.” in Proc. Of the European Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (1993).Google Scholar
  4. Bizer, J. et al. “Technikfolgenabschätzung Ubiquitäres Computing und Informationelle Selbstbestimmung.” 212. (2006).Google Scholar
  5. Bentham, J. “Panopticon: Or, the Inspection-House : Containing the Idea of a New Principle of Construction Applicable To … Penitentiary-Houses, Prisons, Houses of Industry, Work-Houses, Poor-Houses, Manufactories, Mad-Houses, Hospitals, and Schools. With a Plan of Management Adapted to the Principle.” in a series of letters, written … 1787, from Crecheff … to a friend in England (Dublin: Thomas Byrne, 1791).Google Scholar
  6. Bizer, J. et al. “Technikfolgenabschätzung Ubiquitäres Computing Und Informationelle Selbstbestimmung.” in Studie im Auftrag des Bundesministeriums fur Bildung und Forschung. Online: 2006.
  7. Čas, J. “Privacy in Pervasive Computing Environments – a Contradiction in Terms?” IEEE Technology and Society Magazine 24, no. 1 (2004).Google Scholar
  8. Čas, J. “UC – Ubiquitous Computing oder Ubiquitous Control?” In Der Mensch Im Netz – Ubiquitous Computing, edited by B. Britzelmaier, S. Geberl and S. Weinmann. Reihe Wirtschaftsinformatik Stuttgart, Teubner. 2002.Google Scholar
  9. Clarke, R. “Information Technology and Dataveillance.”
  10. De Hert, P. et al. “Legal Safeguards for Privacy and Data Protection in Ambient Intelligence.” Personal and Ubiquitous Computing 13 (2008).Google Scholar
  11. Directive 95/46/Ec of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 October 1995 on the Protection of Individuals with Regard to the Processing of Personal Data and on the Free Movement of Such Data.Google Scholar
  12. European Union. “Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.”Google Scholar
  13. Foucault, M. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. London, Penguin. 1977.Google Scholar
  14. Goecks, J., and E. Mynatt. “Enabling Privacy Management in Ubiquitous Computing Environments through Trust and Reputation Systems.” (paper presented at the CSCW 2002 workshop Privacy in Digital Environments: Empowering Users, New Orleans, 16 November 2002).Google Scholar
  15. Halderman, J.A. Digital Privacy-Rights Management for Ubiquitous Recording. Princeton University. 2003.Google Scholar
  16. Halderman, J.A. Brent Waters, and Edward W. Felten. “Privacy Management for Ubiquitous Recording.”
  17. Hildebrandt, M. Profiling and the identity of the European citizen. In Profiling the European Citizen: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives, edited by M. Hildebrandt and S. Gutwirth. Dordrecht: Springer, 2008, pp. 303–344.Google Scholar
  18. Hildebrandt, M. “Who Is Profiling Who? Invisible Visibility.” In Reinventing Data Protection?, edited by S. Gutwirth, et al. Springer, Netherlands, 240. (2009).Google Scholar
  19. Hildebrandt, M., and B.-J. Koops, editors, FIDIS Deliverable D7.9: A Vision of Ambient Law (2007).Google Scholar
  20. Iachello, G. “Protecting Personal Data: Can It Security Management Standards Help?” (paper presented at the 19th Annual Computer Security Applications Conference, Las Vegas, Dec 2003).Google Scholar
  21. IST Advisory Group. “Ambient Intelligence: From Vision to Reality. For Participation in Society & Business.” (2003), 8.Google Scholar
  22. Kuner, C. “Proportionality in European Data Protection Law and Its Importance for Data Processing by Companies.” Privacy & Security Law Report 07, no. 44 (2008).Google Scholar
  23. Langherinrich, M. “Privacy by Design – Principles of Privacy-Aware Ubiquitous Systems”. In Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing, GA. London: Springer (2001): 273–291.Google Scholar
  24. Lessig, L. “The Architecture of Privacy” (paper presented at the Taiwan Net ’98, Taipei, March 1998).Google Scholar
  25. Rouvroy, A. “Privacy, Data Protection, and the Unprecedented Challenges of Ambient Intelligence.” Studies in Ethics, Law, and Technology 2, no. 1 (2008).Google Scholar
  26. Rouvroy, A., and Y. Poullet. “The Right to Informational Self-Determination: Reassessing the Importance of Privacy for Democracy.” In Reinventing Data Protection?, edited by S. Gutwirth, et al. Springer, Netherlands, 76. (2009).Google Scholar
  27. Spiekermann, S., and S. Evdokimov. “Critical RFID in Privacy-Enhancing Technologies.” IEEE Security & Privacy 7, no. 2 (2009).Google Scholar
  28. Weiser, M. “The Computer for the 21st Century.” Scientific American 265, no. 3 (1991).Google Scholar
  29. Wright, D. et al. editors, Safeguards in a World of Ambient Intelligence, Vol. 1 The International Library of Ethics, Law and Technology Springer, New York Inc). (2008).Google Scholar
  30. Jiang, X. “Safeguard Privacy in Ubiquitous Computing with Decentralized Information Spaces: Bridging the Technical and the Social.” (paper presented at the Ubicomp 2002 Workshop on Socially-informed Design of Privacy-enhancing Solutions in Ubiquitous Computing, Göteborg, 29 September 2002).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Technology Assessment, Austrian Academy of SciencesViennaAustria

Personalised recommendations