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EU To Strengthen Data Protection Rules

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

09 November 2010

Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission (EC) responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, has set out a European Union (EU) strategy on how to protect individuals' data in all areas, including law enforcement, while also reducing red tape for business and guaranteeing the free circulation of data in Europe.

"The protection of personal data is a fundamental right," said Reding. "To guarantee this right, we need clear and consistent data protection rules. We also need to bring our laws up to date with the challenges raised by new technologies and globalization. The EC will put forward legislation next year to strengthen individuals' rights while also removing red tape to ensure the free flow of data within the EU’s Single Market."

The strategy will be used by the EC, together with the results of a public consultation, to revise the EU’s 1995 Data Protection Directive. The EC is calling on all stakeholders and the public to comment on the review's proposals until January 15, 2011. It will thereafter present proposals for a new general data protection legal framework in 2011, which will then need to be negotiated and adopted by the European Parliament and the Council.

In an explanatory memorandum, the EC points out that, in particular, the high-speed internet, web-connected mobile devices and user-generated content have made the exchange of information easier, faster and global. These changes have pushed individuals to the forefront when it comes to the “management” of their personal data, requiring policy makers to shift their focus.

For example, social networking sites – based on personal data processing – have become extremely popular on a global scale, particularly among young people. The benefits of this technology to individuals, businesses and public authorities must, however, the EC says, go hand in hand with the necessary respect for personal data. Individuals' personal data must be effectively protected, whatever the technology used.

In addition, data does not stop at national borders. As a result, the EC believes that citizens and businesses need common, harmonized rules to protect their personal data and ensure that it flows freely throughout the EU.

The strategy therefore sets out proposals on how to modernize the EU data protection rules through a series of key goals, such as strengthening individuals' rights so that the collection and use of personal data is limited to the minimum necessary. Individuals would be clearly informed in a transparent way on how, why, by whom, and for how long their data is collected and used.

People should also be able to give their informed consent to the processing of their personal data, for example when surfing online, and should have the "right to be forgotten" when their data is no longer needed or they want their data to be deleted.

The EC is proposing that the administrative burden on companies would be reduced and a level-playing field produced by eliminating current differences in implementing EU data protection rules between member states. Improved cooperation and coordination is said to be needed, to ensure a more consistent application of data protection rules across the EU.

In addition, data protection rules in the area of police and criminal justice would be revised so that individuals' personal data is protected. Under the review, data retained for law enforcement purposes would also be covered by the new legislative framework. The EC is also reviewing the 2006 Data Retention Directive, under which companies are required to store communication traffic data for a period of between six months and two years.

Furthermore, high levels of protection for data transferred outside the EU will be obtained by improving and streamlining procedures for international data transfers. The EU, it is said, should strive for the same levels of protection in cooperation with third countries and promote high standards for data protection at a global level.

In addition, the EC will examine other measures, such as encouraging awareness-raising campaigns on data protection rights and possible self-regulation initiatives by industry.

TAGS: individuals | business | European Commission | commerce | law | internet | e-commerce | legislation | standards | regulation | telecoms | European Union (EU) | Europe

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