NEWS23 June 2010

European Commissioner promises public consultation on data protection

Europe Privacy

BELGIUM— The European Commissioner responsible for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship has promised to launch a public consultation into online data protection issues across the EU, but believes that industry self-regulation should remain at the core of any new legislation.

In a speech to the American Chamber of Commerce at the EU, former telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding (pictured) said: “With my responsibility for fundamental rights, I know that it is the very ‘power of data’ that requires us to be on our guard to ensure that web surfers’ privacy rights are fully protected. Everyone needs private space – to think freely, grow up, make mistakes, say silly things, experiment, be creative or pursue any other interest.”

She said that the public consultation would look at whether to introduce a European contract law to regulate the use of personal data.

Reding said: “My paramount goal is to ensure that people have a high level of protection and control over their personal information. Both the makers and users of new technologies – the ‘merchants of data’ – will benefit from a consistent set of rules for 27 countries. All companies that operate in the EU must abide by our high standards of data protection and privacy.”

In a three-point plan, Reding said that the EC must “find ways to empower web surfers” and make them feel that their personal data is “safe in the digital world”.

Secondly, she said that there must be more clarity about what “user’s consent” means in practice, and people must be presented with clear information about how their personal data will be used.

Lastly, Reding said that the “fundamental principles of data protection” should be extended into a comprehensive set of EU rules which would also apply to police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.

She closed her speech by saying: “I am very much aware that this sector needs clarity, not red tape. Anyone who works with the internet knows that users’ confidence is paramount. That is why industry self-regulation could work well in this area to complete the existing rules.

“I am considering this approach as a way to have codes of conduct, the incorporation of ‘privacy by design’ principles and more use of privacy enhancing technologies. I will study whether we can cut unnecessary red tape when existing rules are applied.”