Data privacy documentary "Democracy" to debut at Amsterdam's IDFA

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No image availableNL Times

When David Bernet set out in 2009 to direct Democracy, a documentary that throws a spotlight on the inner workings of the European Parliament, he knew he needed a topic that would be relevant for years to come. It was still four years before Edward Snowden leaked classified information about the United States government’s global surveillance, and accused the Netherlands of kowtowing to U.S. spying demands (the Dutch cabinet and military intelligence service denied the accusation). “When I started to do research I asked myself, ‘Which of these laws will be of major concern for the audience when the film is finished?’ Bernet says in an interview with the NL Times. “The major challenges of our society is coming from digitalization,” he adds, mentioning that the discussion is ultimately about what society will become in the future. “And, it needed to [potentially] be a battle,” he sys, elaborating on the point that it would be difficult to make a film about politics unless it had protagonists, a genuine story line, and a window into the lives of its characters. “I knew it would be impossible to make a film about lawmaking, as such,” he says. The film will get its international premiere at Amsterdam documentary festival IDFA on Friday. “It is the most beautiful documentary festival in the world. The audience is really demanding, and I love that very much,” Bernet emphasizes. He wants everyone who is able to vote for European Parliament to see the movie, because, “There is a major lack of understanding about how this organization functions.” IDFA’s prominence in Europe was an important secondary reason for screening at the festival, and Bernet notes the large amount of Netherlands-based politicians, activists and NGOs focused on the issue of data privacy. Among them, Peter Hustinx, who in the film is seen advocating a position that data is often never truly anonymous because the process of elimination allows investigators and researchers the ability to hone in and identify a specific person. Hustinx is a former appellate judge in Amsterdam, and was the head of the Dutch Data Protection Authority (CBP), an organization which recently complained about repeatedly being taken to court by parties trying to block CBP investigations. He served for ten years as the first European Data Protection Supervisor, the EU’s highest office for monitoring data privacy, until stepping down in December 2014. It is much more complicated than just stripping a name away from personal data, Hustinx argues in the film. The real life scenario, he says, is in a classroom when someone demands, "The boy with the dark hair, curls and blue trousers, please leave the room," but everyone still knows who the person is. "This singling out refers to the capacity of providers on the internet," he adds. "They say, 'We don’t know who this is. It’s anonymous,'" but he disagrees. "It is personal data, without any doubt, and that message is of course not very welcome for some big stakeholders."

The documentary centers on MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht, a young Green party parliamentarian from Germany who comes from nowhere to wind up as Europe’s Rapporteur on data privacy. Bernet says Democracy is very much a coming of age story about the politician, who placed virtually no restrictions on the director’s plans to shoot every aspect of Bernet’s political and personal life. “He is another man now than he was four years ago,” Bernet said, calling Albrecht practically “juvenile” when shooting began. “He is really a politician now.” Albrecht is scheduled to join an extended question-and-answer segment following the Democracy screening on Monday night, moderated by former D66 MP and privacy advocate Boris Dittrich. Another figure in the film, Italian attorney Paolo Balboni, a representative of business interests, will be in attendance on Friday. Though audiences may feel inclined to dislike certain characters, the director said it was never his intention to portray someone negatively, or to craft a sense of good guys versus bad guys. “I respected everybody. If you create that kind of black-and-white picture, you narrow the angle through the window the audience sees into their world,” Bernet said. From politicians on down to the often misunderstood lobbyists, “They all think they’re doing good,” the director stated. Bernet now feels optimistic about European politics after following such a long and complicated piece of legislation, which sometimes creates a sense that the European Union is still a collection of nations acting more individually and less in the continent’s best interests . He appreciated the role of lobbyists, who he says are necessary to the process and keep politicians informed, and he hopes to see more politicians capable of understanding that every person who provides information has some sort of agenda. “It’s really about compromise, and in the end, what happens in Brussels is another example of a super-democracy.” Democracy will be screened at the Brakke Grond Expozaal at 7 p.m. on Friday, and at 4:30 p.m. on Monday. Two more screenings are scheduled at the Pathe de Munt on Thursday, November 26, at 11:30 a.m., and two days later at 9 p.m. Tickets may be purchased via the IDFA website.