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European Union launches the PRESCIENT project

Known as the PRESCIENT (Privacy and Emerging Sciences and Technologies) project, the EU program's brief notes that there are significant benefits from the arrival of new computing and electronic-related technologies in the marketplace.

At the same time, however, the project's brief notes there are risks, such as new identification and surveillance technologies, biometrics, on-the-spot DNA sequencing and technologies for human enhancement.

According to Michael Friedwald, head of ICT research at the Fraudhofer institute for systems and innovation research and the co-ordinator of the project: "new technologies can often be used in a way that undermines the right to privacy because they facilitate the collection, storage, processing and combination of personal data by security agencies and businesses."

"We have seen that with the rise of social networking websites such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo. They have led to a dramatic increase in the amount of personal information available online, which is routinely misappropriated for identity theft or other fraudulent purposes", he said.

"We know that employers also mine these sites in order to vet prospective employees. RFID and biometrics can also be used in ways invidious to our privacy", he added.

Friedwald went on to say that the use of these new technologies is changing the ways in which we understand privacy and data protection, but it is not sufficient to look at privacy in its legal or human rights aspects, as there are ethical, social, cultural and other dimensions to the issue.

If this refrain sounds familiar, it's remarkably similar to the ethos of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) that John Barlow and Mitch Kapor detailed when they launched the foundation back in the summer of 1990.

The PRESCIENT project seems to go further than the EFF's early ethos, Infosecurity notes, and the gameplan is to create a framework for privacy and ethical considerations arising from the use of emerging technologies.

The project is being undertaken initially by a consortium of four partners that includes Fraunhofer in Germany, Trilateral Research and Consulting in the UK, the Centre for Science, Society and Citizenship in Italy and the Research Centre for Law, Science, Technology & Society at Rije University in Belgium.

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