Purpose and tasks

Terms of reference

In recent years, there has been growing public debate and heavy focus on various data ethical issues resulting from the use of digital solutions and data. However, technological development raises a number of ethical dilemmas, for example with respect to privacy, transparency and legal certainty when using algorithms.

Data ethical issues arise in connection with the use of data by both private companies and public authorities.

The technological possibilities are very beneficial to society, and without technological development we would not have the society that we have today. As a guiding rule, the use of data - within the framework of the law - is vital for the development of society. Thus, in many ways, the use of data contributes to ensuring an efficient and functional public administration for the benefit of us all, as well as a functional private sector in a digitized world.
Digitization and data use hold enormous potential for growth and innovation and enable the development of new services and products not previously seen. It is, however, a precondition for realizing this potential that society trusts that the new technologies and data are used in a responsible manner.

Support for a responsible approach to the use of data by companies may promote supply and demand for increased transparency in the companies’ handling and use of data. The intention is for a data ethics council to ensure continuous focus on data ethical issues in relation to companies’ use of data.

Data is also a vital resource for public authorities to ensure an efficient public sector. Personal data may, for example, help caseworkers make the right decisions, support healthcare professionals in the choice of treatment strategies, decide simple cases immediately with digital aids and support the delivery of good personal service by the public sector.

With increasing data volumes and important technological development, the possibilities for processing and using data have also improved. New technologies enable both the public sector and other players to make better use of personal data than previously.

It is, however, a precondition for better data use in the public sector that citizens trust the handling of personal data by the public sector. In this connection, informed debates on data ethical subjects, recognising the disadvantages as well as the advantages of using data and new technologies, for example when using large data volumes, may contribute to promoting trust in the public sector.

Delimitation and co-operation interfaces

Data ethics should generally be understood as the ethical dimension of the relationship between technology, on the one hand, and citizens’ fundamental rights, legal certainty and the fundamental values of society on the other, to which technological development gives rise. The concept includes ethical issues associated with the use of data.

Data ethics also comprise data that are not personal data. This could, for example, be the avoidance of bias in training data for use in machine learning, avoidance of design for dependency or general use of new data possibilities within, for example, the insurance business, or the use of robots in customer service departments, etc. However, a common characteristic of such data processing is that, in the end, it will often be about people.

The intention is for the Data Ethics Council to monitor developments within data ethical issues with a view to the development and support, in an ethically responsible manner, of the many advantages offered by the use of data. The Council will thus discuss how to ensure in the future that the enormous technological possibilities are realized in a way that serves the common general objectives that we have set up as a society.

An example of this is a general use of data and technology where the use of data and technology, while, of course, remaining within the framework of the law, involves significant deliberations on conflicting considerations of the citizens’ fundamental rights, legal certainty or fundamental values of society.

There are already national and international rules that aim to protect the citizens’ privacy. The General Data Protection Regulation, which entered into force on 25 May 2018 in Denmark and the rest of the EU, is an important set of rules.

The Data Ethical Council will not discuss legal issues in the legislation. This also means that the intention is not for the Data Ethics Council to take a direct or indirect position on individual cases or on whether applicable law has been observed. The Council will, therefore, not take over tasks from regulatory authorities, including especially the Danish Data Protection Agency, which, pursuant to the legislation, have competence to ensure compliance with the law.

One example is that the Data Ethics Council will not express an opinion on good data processing practice under the General Data Protection Regulation in the wake of a case pending with the Danish Data Protection Agency. However, the Data Ethics Council may express a general opinion on the use of a certain technology, even if this technology is involved in a specific case.

Furthermore, the Data Ethics Council will not be able to take a direct or indirect position on research projects being administered in the research ethics committee system. The purpose of the committee system is to ensure that health research projects are conducted in an ethically responsible manner and to consider applications for research projects.

The Data Ethics Council will have to co-operate with the Danish Council on Ethics (Det Etiske Råd) for the purpose of ensuring a boost within the ethics area through co-operation and dialogue and avoiding double work or unnecessary overlap of activities in the councils.

By establishing the Data Ethics Council, it will be possible to have the new council consider general ethical issues on data, while the Danish Council on Ethics will still be able to consider similar ethical issues concerning, for example, research in health data and collection of health information.

The purpose of the Data Ethics Council is to create a forum where ethical issues concerning the relationship between the advantages of using new technology, on the one hand, and considerations of citizens’ fundamental rights, legal certainty and the fundamental values of society on the other hand can be discussed, and where a lasting effort to support responsible use of data may be rooted. Society’s need to use data and exploit technological possibilities must be considered and respected. The Data Ethics Council can contribute by ensuring that the use of data takes place in an ethically responsible manner and thus contributes to positive development in the use of data.

The Council’s work will be concentrated within two main areas:

  • Creating a data ethical debate and raising public awareness

    The Data Ethics Council will, through recommendations, reports, statements and debate-stimulating activities, satisfy the need for continuous debate and public attention on data ethical dilemmas of new technology, such as business intelligence, big data, deep learning, machine learning, artificial intelligence, etc., as well as the broader possibilities and risks of using data, including personal data, resulting from this.

    At the same time, the Data Ethics Council will continuously work to focus attention on a suitable balance between technological development and the use of data, on the one hand, and respect for the fundamental rights and legal certainty of the individual and an efficient public administration that will contribute to ensuring that the citizens have faith in the use of data by the public sector and companies.

    This will take place as part of the general focus on data protection and cyber and information security within the public sector and the business sector and a focus on how to ensure a good framework for companies, so that Denmark has a competitive and digital private sector that is equipped to handle future changes.
     
  • Continuously supporting responsible and sustainable data use within the business sector and the public sector

    As part of other data ethical initiatives for the business sector, a lasting effort to support responsible and sustainable use of data will be rooted in the Council. The Council must work to ensure that a responsible approach to data use can become a competition parameter both nationally and internationally, for example by presenting recommendations and statements and by acting as sparring partner for the Danish Ministry of Industry, Business and Financial Affairs in connection with the ministry's implementation of relevant initiatives.

    Similarly, the Data Ethics Council will support responsible and sustainable data use in the public sector with a view to promoting the citizens’ trust in the processing by the public sector of personal data, compilation of such data, etc. 

The Council will:

  • Advise Folketinget (Danish parliament), ministers and public authorities on ethical issues associated with the use of data and new technology, including the many advantages offered by the use of data and new technology. The Council must continuously provide information on the possibility of new efforts within an authority's jurisdiction.
  • Monitor the development in society of the use of data and new technology and present recommendations, reports and statements on general and fundamental data ethical issues related thereto.
  • Be in charge of information and activities stimulating debate on data ethical issues and challenges faced by society. The Council will keep the public updated on this.
  • Submit an annual report to the government on recommendations and activities. The Council supports a culture in companies and within the public sector that is based on conscious decisions on sustainable data use.
  • Provide constructive discussions with relevant authorities and assist in ensuring transparency and dialogue; for example, in relation to the ethical principles that constitute an initiative in the strategy for use of artificial intelligence, and data ethical initiatives for which the Danish Business Authority is responsible, such as the dynamic toolbox for data ethics.

In connection with the execution of tasks, the Council must ensure an international outlook.

The Council may, on its own initiative, bring up subjects for discussion that are within the above framework.

The Council may also, at the government's request, discuss or prepare statements on certain subjects within the above framework.

The Council consists of 15 members, including the chairman.

When appointing members, a broad composition is found to be important based on these considerations:

  • Members have knowledge of practical and/or technical conditions in connection with the use of technologies in the public administration and/or the business sector. This should be the most important consideration when appointing members to ensure that the Council may provide practical and specific help to decision-makers in companies and the public sector.
  • Members appointed by ministers have research experience or interest in the correlation between law, philosophy, ethics and/or technology. This may include laymen, including, for example, members representing civil society.

The Council consists of:

  • A chairman appointed by the Minister of Justice in consultation with the Minister for Industry, Business and Financial Affairs and the Minister for Innovation
  • 3 members appointed by the Minister of Justice
  • 3 members appointed by the Minister for Industry, Business and Financial Affairs
  • 3 members appointed by the Minister for Innovation
  • 3 members recommended by the Judicial Committee and appointed by the Minister of Justice after consultation with the Minister for Industry, Business and Financial Affairs and the Minister for Innovation
  • 2 members appointed by the Minister for Finance, the Minister of Justice and the Minister for Industry, Business and Financial Affairs.

The Council members are appointed for a period of four years with the possibility of one extension.

The Council may, as required, establish special advisory groups or task forces.

The Council is independent of the government.

The Council will co-operate with relevant ministries.

Objectives, etc. of the Council

  • Clause 1. The objective of the Data Ethics Council is to establish a forum which is capable of creating debate on data ethics and which may continuously support responsible and sustainable data use in the business sector and the public sector.
  • Clause 1, subclause 2 The Data Ethics Council will fulfil the object described in subclause 1 through advice, recommendations, reports and statements on general and fundamental data ethical issues and other debate-stimulating activity.
  • Clause 1, subclause 3 To fulfil its objective, the Data Ethics Council must co-operate with relevant councils, etc. to boost the debate on ethics and avoid double work.

Organisation of the Council

  • Clause 2. The Data Ethics Council is an independent, public administrative authority. The members’ work for the Data Ethics Council must comply with public law rules. Questions regarding public law rules may be addressed to the secretariat employee from the department of the Ministry of Justice.
  • Clause 3. The chairman of the Data Ethics Council will preside over the meetings of the Council.
  • Clause 3, subclause 2 If the chairman is prevented from participating in a meeting, the chairman will appoint one of the members of the Council to preside over the relevant meeting.
  • Clause 4. The Data Ethics Council will jointly decide, possibly after a vote, the subjects which the Council wants to discuss at its own initiative. Decisions are made by simple majority. 
  • Clause 4, subclause 2 After consultation with the other members of the Council, the Chairman decides which advisory tasks and other enquiries on sparring, etc. that the Council will take on. Consultation with the other Council members will take place in writing; see the procedure in clause 12.
  • Clause 5. Members of the Data Ethics Council may establish internal task forces and advisory groups, which will work with one or several subjects prior to or after plenary discussions in the Council. The establishment of task forces and advisory groups is approved by the Council members.
  • Clause 5, subclause 2 A task force will consist solely of members of the Data Ethics Council. In addition to the members of the Data Ethics Council, an advisory group may also consist of external persons, such as experts or other stakeholders, who may contribute knowledge and insight.  
  • Clause 5, subclause 3 The Chairman of the Data Ethics Council will appoint a chairman of the task force or advisory group.
  • Clause 5, subclause 4 The secretariat will prepare ad hoc draft terms of reference for the subject with which the task force or advisory group will work. The ad hoc terms of reference are approved by the Council. The terms of reference may be approved in accordance with the procedure in clause 12.
  • Clause 6. Recommendations, reports, discussions, etc. by the Data Ethics Council are signed by all Council members in accordance with the provisions in the communication policy.
  • Clause 6, subclause 2 A recommendation, report etc. must reflect the views of both the majority and the minority.
  • Clause 7. As a guiding principle, the authority of the Data Ethics Council to conclude agreements on legal obligations is delegated to the Chairman of the Data Ethics Council. Upon decision by the Chairman, special agreements etc. may be presented to the Council members in writing; see the
  • procedure in clause 12.
  • Clause 7, subclause 2 The Data Ethics Council will make decisions on the right of access to documents included in the Council's work. As a guiding principle, the authority of the Data Ethics Council to make decisions on right of access to documents or insight is delegated to the Chairman of the Data Ethics Council. The secretariat will prepare a draft decision. Special legal issues relating to the decisions may, upon decision by the Chairman, be presented to the Council members in writing, see the procedure in clause 12.
  • Clause 7, subclause 3 The authority to respond to other external enquiries that are not in the nature of an administrative law decision is delegated to the Chairman. The secretariat will prepare a draft response. The Chairman may decide that the secretariat can respond to certain enquiries without prior approval by the Chairman.
  • Clause 7, subclause 4 At the first meeting in each quarter, the secretariat will inform the members of the Data Ethics Council of the decisions and responses from the most recent quarter.

Council activities

  • Clause 8. The Data Ethics Council will hold ordinary meetings approx. 4-5 times every year. The Council will not hold meetings in July. The meeting dates are fixed by the Chairman at the beginning of the year. As a general rule, the meetings are held at the Danish Business Authority.
  • Clause 8, subclause 2 After the ordinary meetings, the secretariat will prepare a draft record of decisions, which must be approved by the Chairman.
  • Clause 9. The ordinary meetings of the Data Ethics Council are not public. Discussions at Council meetings are confidential.
  • Clause 9, subclause 2 Appointment as a member of the Data Ethics Council is personal and it is not possible to attend by proxy or substitute. 
  • Clause 9, subclause 3 The Council may decide that external parties may participate in (parts of) the ordinary meetings to share knowledge about a certain subject, professional input, etc.
  • Clause 10. Cancellation of attendance at an ordinary meeting must be addressed to the secretariat using the function mailbox post@dataetiskraad.dk. Cancellation must be received three weekdays before the ordinary meeting, if possible.
  • Clause 10, subclause 2 A letter calling the meeting, together with meeting material, will be sent out seven calendar days before the meeting.
  • Clause 10, subclause 3 Subjects and other points to be discussed at a meeting must be sent to the secretariat 14 calendar days before the meeting.
  • Clause 11. The meeting material is divided into three categories:
    • Primary meeting material: All members should read the material, which must not be shared with external parties. 
    • Secondary meeting material: Will only be sent out for information but the material may not be shared with external parties
    • Background material: Publicly available material can be read with a view to further information and may be shared with external parties.
  • Clause 12. The Data Ethics Council may discuss subjects, etc. in writing, instead of at an ordinary meeting to the extent it follows from these rules of procedure or is decided by the Chairman.
  • Clause 12, subclause 2 In connection with written consideration of subjects or written approval of recommendations etc., the secretariat forwards the main document with a recommendation and the background material to the members of the Data Ethics Council. The members of the Data Ethics Council must respond within the specific deadline. If agreement cannot be reached on the contents of a recommendation, report etc. the procedure in clause 6, subclause 2, is followed.
  • Clause 12, subclause 3 In connection with written consideration of administrative law decisions, the secretariat forwards a draft decision. In case of equality of votes for a written consideration of a decision, the Chairman shall make the final decision. 
  • Clause 13. At the beginning of the year and after consultation with other members, the Chairman adopts an annual schedule for the Data Ethics Council with indication of the ordinary meetings and other activities etc. of the Council. The secretariat will prepare a draft for this.
  • Clause 13, subclause 2 The Chairman may decide to continuously add activities, etc. to the annual schedule. The Chairman can add activities etc. to the annual schedule after recommendation from a member.
  • Clause 13, subclause 3 After discussion with the Council members, the Chairman decides which subjects the Council will bring up, discuss and possibly prepare recommendations for or initiate information activities about.
  • Clause 13, subclause 4 A member who is invited to events on data ethics will inform the secretariat. The secretariat will assist the member in connection with participation in the event.

The members

  • Clause 14. New members of the Data Ethics Council will be invited to a welcome meeting with the secretariat and the Chairman.
  • Clause 15. All members who receive an enquiry which must be assumed to be addressed to the Data Ethics Council must, as soon as possible, forward the enquiry to the secretariat’s main mailbox with a view to registration.
  • Clause 16. Members of the Data Ethics Council may receive a refund of expenses for transport to the ordinary meetings of the Council according to the current rules for refund of transport in the government travel rules. A member who wants a refund of transport expenses must save receipts etc. and send them to the secretariat.
  • Clause 16, subclause 2 Expenses incurred for transport, conferences, overnight accommodation, etc., for members participating in events on behalf of the Data Ethics Council may, upon approval by the secretariat, be refunded according to the rules applicable at any time for travel in government service.
  • Clause 17. Ordinary members of the Data Ethics Council do not receive any fee for membership of the Council.
  • The Council's administrative procedures and products
  • Clause 18. Ingoing and outgoing mail to the Data Ethics Council's mailbox is recorded in the Ministry of Justice under a special group number for the Data Ethics Council.
  • Clause 19. The secretariat will prepare an independent document regarding compliance by the Data Ethics Council with the provisions of the data protection legislation.
  • Clause 20. The Data Ethics Council's electronic cases in the Ministry of Justice's case administration system are transferred to archives at the same time as the Ministry of Justice's cases in accordance with the archive rules in force at any time.
  • Clause 20, subclause 2 If the Data Ethics Council is abolished, cases and documents may be transferred to archives by agreement with the keeper of the public records.
  • Clause 20, subclause 3 Cases and documents that are not to be transferred to archives must be deleted.

Council secretariat

  • Clause 21. The main task of the secretariat is to assist the Data Ethics Council. The secretariat must assist in connection with tasks associated with the holding of Council meetings and tasks related to the continuous service of the Council, including major analysis tasks, etc. 
  • Clause 22. The secretariat carries out other tasks which are delegated in the rules of procedure or by ad hoc decision from the Council.
  • Clause 23. The secretariat is tasked with maintaining the website of the Data Ethics Council.

Communication policy

  • Clause 24. The secretariat prepares a communication policy to be approved by the Council. All members of the Data Ethics Council must comply with the applicable communication policy.
  • Clause 24, subclause 2 The communication policy may be changed by the Council at the request of a member.
  • Clause 25. The annual report to the government on the Council's recommendations and activities must be sent to the government after the Council's second ordinary meeting.
  • Clause 25, subclause 2 The secretariat will prepare a draft report in co-operation with the Chairman. The Data Ethics Council approves the annual report at the second ordinary meeting.
  • Clause 26. The Chairman speaks on behalf of the Data Ethics Council regarding recommendations, etc., to the public, the press and media. 
  • Clause 26, subclause 2 By agreement with a member of the Data Ethics Council, the Chairman may allow the relevant member to speak on behalf of the Council regarding recommendations, etc.
  • Clause 26, subclause 3 A member of the Data Ethics Council may, on behalf of the Council, hold presentations about the Data Ethics Council and its terms of reference, tasks and the Council's previous work after notification of the secretariat.

Interpretation of the terms of reference

  • Clause 27. In case of doubt as to the interpretation of the terms of reference, the matter is decided by the Chairman upon recommendation from the Ministry of Justice, the Danish Business Authority and the Agency for Digitisation.

Budget/finances

  • Clause 28. The secretariat prepares a draft annual budget to be approved by the Chairman.
  • Clause 28, subclause 2 The Council members may receive a copy of the budget by contacting the secretariat.

Self-assessment

  • Clause 29. The Data Ethics Council assesses the Council’s work and secretariat service once annually. The assessment is made at the end of December.

Change of rules of procedure

  • Clause 30. Changes to the rules of procedure must be approved by a majority of the Council members, including the Chairman.

Entry into force

  • Clause 31. The rules of procedure entered into force upon approval by the Data Ethics Council at a meeting on 30 October 2019.

Secretariat service of the Council is handled by the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Finance represented by the Agency for Digitisation and the Danish Ministry of Industry, Business and Financial Affairs represented by The Danish Business Authority, jointly.

Send a data concern

If you, as a citizen, are concerned about the way in which an authority or a company uses data, you can send the concern to the Danish Data Protection Agency.