Research group at imec & Vrije Universiteit Brussel


Where are the missing data subjects? Democratising data protection through participation

Why do we ‘seek the views’ of data subjects, and how? These are the main questions addressed by a panel discussion organized by the SPECTRE research project at the Computers, Privacy and Data Protection (CPDP) conference in January 2021.

Data Protection, Control and Participation

EU data protection law wants to empower individuals through consent and data subject rights. Yet, in practice, crucial decisions like the assessment of risks and the balancing of interests at stake, features of GDPR’s risk-based approach, are fully entrusted to controllers. Individuals, as data subjects and citizens of an increasingly datafied society, have little influence on desirability, necessity, proportionality and design of a processing operation. In an era where ubiquitous computing – by private and public data controllers – brings out profound changes in the enjoyment of fundamental rights, but also to the economy and society, this panel discusses public participation in DPIAs as a tool for ex-ante control, legitimisation and democratisation of data protection. In other risk-based frameworks (e.g. Technology Assessments), opening up to the public is agreed to be highly desirable, and in some instances even clearly legislated.

Themes of the discussion

The panel on participation and data protection will mainly discuss the following questions:

  • Is there an obligation to engage individuals in DPIAs under the GDPR?
  • Stakeholder participation in DPIAs can contribute to enforcing the right to data protection but why is no one doing it?
  • Who to engage and how?
  • Technocracy vs societal input and legitimization: irreconcilable values?

The panel will be held on 28 January, 16:00 (more information).

The SPECTRE research project

SPECTRE is an interdisciplinary research project investigating how to enhance privacy and data protection in smart cities. Behind the smartness often lies large-scale processing of data, many of which are personal and could reveal detailed information on the lives of residents and visitors. SPECTRE looks into data protection challenges in smart cities through the lens of law, social science and economics. Focusing on Data Protection Impact Assessments, it searches for solutions revolving around legal compliance, participation and societal acceptance, as well as considerations on costs and competition.

The SPECTRE project is funded by the FWO (Research Foundation – Flanders) and supported by two Belgian universities (KU Leuven and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel), together with various stakeholders. You can find all information on

If you wish to know more, please contact us at