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The Spanish discussion on project Worldcoin

April 11, 2024

Published in

El Confidencial

Juan Cianciardo

Director of the Master's Degree in Human Rights of the University of Navarra and Full Professor of Philosophy del Derecho

A few days ago, the Spanish Agency for the Protection of data decided to ban the activity of "Worldcoin" for three months, through a measure provisional of an exceptional nature. The case deserves some reflection. I will divide them into three sections.

The first thing that comes up is the difficulty in understanding what we are talking about. What is Worldcoin? Is it a cryptocurrency? Is it a company dedicated to artificial intelligence? Do you intend to create an ID staff universal in scope? It is partly something of each of these things, but not exactly none or the sum of all of them. If digitalization is already a revolution in itself, Worldcoin presents itself with an ultra-revolutionary air that inevitably stirs up dust... To which they are not unaware of the fact that the creature has been the work of, among others, Sam Altman, the powerful personality who has led OpenAI and ChatGPT.

How, then, to define Worldcoin? We are facing a project multifaceted and hugely ambitious. Through "orb", a device that performs a biometric iris scan, Worldcoin provides each human who uses it with a unique code, intended to prevent identity theft. At the same time, those who register with the orb receive WLD tokens, and with those tokens they can then dispose of them with that unique identity. Through the issuance of tokens, Worldcoin aims to launch a network global financial and identity-based evidence of the humanity of its users. The proposal It has a clear differentiation from leaders in the crypto market, such as Bitcoin and Etherum. Its impact is growing. There are currently 120 countries with World ID users (totalling more than 3 million), and 35 of them have had retinal scans.

However, the biometric iris scanning technology employed by Worldcoin has faced a number of privacy-related objections (iris scans are considered data highly sensitive biometrics, and there are concerns that Worldcoin is not adequately protecting these data), security (apparently, iris scans can be faked using high-resolution images), the nature of consent given by people who have agreed to their iris scan (some question whether it is fully informed consent) and, finally, the use of iris scans (some question whether it is fully informed consent) and, finally, the use of the data (the company has said it will use the data to create a global identity system, but some argue that details about how this system will work or how it will protect users' privacy are lacking.) As a result of these objections, the advance of the project It has faced state attempts at regulation, ranging from mild and reasonable to strong, including in some countries banning it.

Second thought: within the preceding context, quotation A wide and diverse range of problems, a fascinating range of questions that philosophers, politicians, jurists and moralists are beginning to study with the help of engineers, economists and doctors, depending on the case and the topic. From the political point of view of different countries, the topic By taking the principle of security to the extreme, that is to say, by prohibiting, hyper-regulating, casting a general suspicion on the whole of the world, by prohibiting, by hyper-regulating, by casting a general suspicion on the whole of the world. project. This is what has just happened in Spain.

This is one more manifestation of a class of mistake B to which we have been accustomed for some years now (the turning point is probably November 1989). On the one hand, it starts from omitting that in phenomena such as Worldcoin (although not only in it, we could place this, for example, in the broader context provided by cryptocurrencies), scientific advances are far ahead of those of the world. programs of study political, moral and juridical factors that allow them to be understood, guided and, eventually, limited through the promotion of specific regulatory frameworks. On the other hand, while it is true that private initiative must be carried out in compliance with the law - and that it is this subject It is also true that it is a system that is aimed especially at governments, not citizens. That is the focal meaning of the "rule of law": it is the laws, not the authorities, that govern, and that is also the meaning of one of its most obvious conclusions: law disposes to the future, not to the past. In the post-populist atmosphere that surrounds us, there are those who seek to impose and even impose a different order: a government of those who hold power through laws with retroactive effects that regulate and even prohibit private initiatives, and the primacy of the principle of security over the principle of freedom. In this context, human rights are not infrequently used as a tool to stifle the ideas on which its emergence in the late eighteenth century was based.

Third and final point. Why is this second reflection particularly relevant in the Spanish case? Here's why. The resolution of the Spanish Agency for the Protection of data it has gone over the rules that regulate cases like Worldcoin, and arrives at an unreasonable solution. Specifically, at least the following defects appear very evident: a) the Agency resolved without there being evidence that there had been communication to Worldcoin of the complaints referred to therein, in contradiction with the right to effective judicial protection recognized by the Constitution; (b) the precautionary measure is disproportionate, since it completely halts Worldcoin's activity and jeopardises the viability of its operation in Spain, when the same end could have been achieved by using a means less harmful to the rights at stake; and (c) the Spanish Agency has expanded its skill beyond what is provided for in Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and the committeeof 27 April 2016 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of data and the free movement of persons and the free movement of persons data. In this rule it is expressly provided that where a company carries out cross-border activities (i.e. involving more than one Member State) the skill It is the responsibility of the supervisory authority of the main establishment ("one-stop-shop" system). In this case, that authority is that of Bavaria, Worldcoin's headquarters. The Spanish Agency should have statement with the Bavarian Agency (nowhere in the resolution that it has done so) and offer and seek cooperation on the case.

We are, in final, in the face of a resolution provisional that it lacks a solid legal basis and that it exudes an unmistakably populist flavour, because of its imprecision and vagueness, because of the unusual style and track with which the Agency decided to disseminate it, and because of the twisted interpretation given in it to the applicable rules in force. With all this in mind, it is to be hoped that justice will reverse it.