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Foreword to 'Ethnic Monitoring - The Processing of Racial and Ethnic Data in Anti-Discrimination Policies: Reconciling the Promotion of Equality with Privacy Rights'


Olivier De Schutter


University of Louvain (Belgium)

Julie Ringelheim


University of Louvain (Belgium) - Center for Philosophy of Law

15 1, 2010

Olivier De Schutter and Julie Ringelheim, ETHNIC MONITORING - THE PROCESSING OF RACIAL AND ETHNIC DATA IN ANTI-DISCRIMINATION POLICIES: RECONCILING THE PROMOTION OF EQUALITY WITH PRIVACY RIGHTS, Bruylant, 2010

Abstract:     
As a result of the two Equality Directives adopted in 2000, antidiscrimination law is changing rapidly throughout Europe. Pressed by civil society movements and international bodies tasked with monitoring equality, policy-makers, are in search of new and more efficient modes of combating discrimination and promoting equality. The issue of the processing of data relating to ethnicity and religion has become central to these developments. The availability of such data is recognized as playing an increasingly important role in the fight against discrimination. In order to elaborate policies designed to promote equality, States must be able to identify the nature and extent of discrimination, the groups affected by discrimination, and the fields in which discrimination occurs. To this end, they must have access to sufficiently precise information on the situation of members of vulnerable groups in the diverse fields of social life, such as employment, education or housing. In addition, the regular production of new statistical studies enables public authorities to monitor the implementation of equality policies and assess their impact. Furthermore, private actors such as employers who wish to (or are required to) develop an equality plan in their company must have the means to assess the extent to which potentially discriminated groups are adequately represented in their workforce. Finally, in the framework of judicial proceedings, the laws of several European Union member States allow the person who claims to be the victim of discrimination to have recourse to statistical data to prove indirect discrimination.

However, in many European countries, the collection of data needed to fight racial and ethnic discrimination remains a matter of public controversy. Existing personal data protection legislation is often seen as an obstacle to the processing of such data, which international and European norms treat as highly sensitive. The question has arisen more recently whether the principle of ‘self-identification’, which should allow each individual to decide for him- or herself to which category he or she should belong, is always compatible with the need for effective antidiscrimination strategies. Finally, the possibility of classifying people in racial or ethnic categories is itself controversial, given the ambiguity of the concepts of “race” and “ethnicity” and the fear that reliance on such classifications may increase the salience of such categories in the society. The construction of racial or ethnic categories, indeed, is not a purely technical exercise: it puts into question fundamental conceptions about the managing of various identities in a political community and the relation between state, citizens and social groups. This book maps this debate, at moment when it is emerging on continental Europe, and seeks to move it forward. The analysis is based on international human rights law as well as on the laws and practices of several states. The authors conclude that human rights standards, and in particular the right to privacy, do not preclude the collection of data on racial or ethnic origin for antidiscrimination purposes, although they define fundamental safeguards and limits that constrain the extent to and the manner in which this type of information can be gathered and processed.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 6

Keywords: Antidiscrimination, Equality, Race, Ethnicity, Privacy, Personal Data Protection, EU law, Identity, Human Rights Law

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Date posted: February 13, 2010  

Suggested Citation

De Schutter, Olivier and Ringelheim, Julie, Foreword to 'Ethnic Monitoring - The Processing of Racial and Ethnic Data in Anti-Discrimination Policies: Reconciling the Promotion of Equality with Privacy Rights' (15 1, 2010). Olivier De Schutter and Julie Ringelheim, ETHNIC MONITORING - THE PROCESSING OF RACIAL AND ETHNIC DATA IN ANTI-DISCRIMINATION POLICIES: RECONCILING THE PROMOTION OF EQUALITY WITH PRIVACY RIGHTS, Bruylant, 2010 . Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1552321

Contact Information

Olivier De Schutter
University of Louvain (Belgium) ( email )
Place Montesquieu, 3
B-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, 1348
Belgium
Julie Ringelheim (Contact Author)
University of Louvain (Belgium) - Center for Philosophy of Law ( email )
Pl. Montesquieu, 2
Louvain-la-Neuve, B-1348
Belgium
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