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Protection des données personnelles et droit à la vie privée : enquête sur la notion controversée de « donnée à caractère personnel »

Abstract : Internet and digital information and communication technologies in general are often portrayedas a threat to privacy. This gives rise to many debates, both in the media and among decisionmakers. The Snowden revelations, in 2013, followed by the adoption in 2016 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), have moved these discussions under the spotlight of the publicsphere.The research presented in this dissertation was born out of three questions: can we define what“privacy” is? Is there any consensus on its definition? And does this consensus change with theevolution of the technical milieu transforming our ways of communicating, and by doing so, theway in which our privacy can be intruded upon? By defining “privacy” as the object which is protected by normative texts – laws, court decisions,techno-political standards of the Internet – protecting the right to privacy, it becomes possible toconduct an empirical study of how it evolved and how it has been a topic of contention. Data protection law emerged in Europe during the 1970’s. Its aim was to protect a “privacy” that was perceived as under threat by the advent of computers. Currently, the GDPR, or somedocuments adopted by standards-settings organisations like the Internet Engineering Task Force(IETF) or the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), are written with the intention that they protect this privacy through a set of rules and principles referred to as “data protection”, that apply to “personal data”. The legal definitions of this notion produced by political institutions and those crafted instandards-settings bodies are identical. Furthermore, the study of the genealogy of data protection reveals that computer scientists have played a pivotal role in the invention of the principles that “data protection” still relies on, for instance in the GDPR. The analysis of the controversies that took place in the shaping of these rules shows that the notion of “personal data” written down in the normative texts we analysed essentially reflects the beliefs system of a coalition inspired by liberal utilitarian ideals, valuing individual autonomy and granting importance to the respect of one’s consent. This framing of “privacy” has become the paradigm on the field. Other theories, such as those defining “privacy” as a space bound by collectively defined borders protecting it from the public eye, or those advocating the recognition of private property rights on personal data, have been less successful in shaping policy out comes.The advent and spread of networked computers have not directly determined the evolution of theobject that is protected by the right to privacy. It is, rather, the perceptions a group of actors had of computers, that caused such an evolution. Convinced that their liberal conception of privacy issocially valuable, they managed to craft a new legal category during the 1970’s in Europe: the right to the protection of personal data. The GDPR, adopted in 2016, just like Web standards aiming at enhancing the protection of privacy, rely those same principles that were invented during these early debates. Therefore, it can be said that the emergence of computers has indeed, but indirectly, been a triggering factor in the evolution of “privacy” defined as the object protected by the right to privacy.
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Julien Rossi. Protection des données personnelles et droit à la vie privée : enquête sur la notion controversée de « donnée à caractère personnel ». Science politique. Université de Technologie de Compiègne, 2020. Français. ⟨NNT : 2020COMP2549⟩. ⟨tel-03155480⟩

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