Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Outdoing Huxley

Data protection is high on the agenda of the European Commission, as is attested by the pending proposals for reforming the existing EU data protection framework (see earlier posts on this blog 'EU data protection reform' and 'EU data protection reform announced').

Last Monday, Commissioner Reding gave a speech on the topic at the Digital Enlightenment Forum in Luxembourg: 'Outdoing Huxley: Forging a high level of data protection for Europe in the brave new digital world'. She set out the Commission's aims in the field and explained the background to the proposals:

'Control of every movement, every word or every e-mail made for private purposes is not compatible with Europe's fundamental values or our common understanding of a free society. This is why the Union's Charter of fundamental rights recognises both the right to private life in Article 7 and the right to the protection of personal data in Article 8. But this is not all: Article 16 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union also gives the European Union the legislative competence to establish harmonised EU data protection laws that apply to the whole continent and that make the right to data protection a reality. Data protection is thus one of the rare fields where we have full coherence between the fundamental right and the EU’s legislative competences of the EU. This makes data protection a particularly powerful fundamental right in the European Union, and the Commission’s proposals from 25 January have been designed to put this right into practice everywhere in our internal market.'

Reding's speech replied to some points of criticism that the proposals encountered so far (e.g. from the European Data Protection Supervisor, see 'Critical look at the new data protection rules'). Regarding possible problems related to the enforcement of the proposed rules, she observed:

'In the interest of legal certainty and of fair competition, we have introduced a one-stop-shop system.

For the consumer, this means that they will always turn to their national data protection authority when they have a problem with a company – no matter where the company is based. They will not have to labour through the process of contacting authorities in different EU countries, riddled as it is with problems of different languages or procedures. We make things easy for the consumer.

The same un-bureaucratic one-stop-shop exists for companies as well. They will only have to deal with one data protection authority: in the country in which they have their main establishment. This cuts costs while increasing legal certainty.'

On the point of possibly conflicting fundamental rights, such as the rights to privacy and data protection (incl. a 'right to be forgotten') v freedom of the press, Reding added:

'We are thus allowing Member States to create rules to reconcile the right to the protection of personal data with the rules governing freedom of expression.

This is certainly a difficult balancing act, and one that can only be achieved in the knowledge of the specific details of each individual case and the specific national circumstances. In short, the right to be forgotten is not an absolute right, it is a relative right. Like the general right to privacy, it is a right that needs to be reconciled with other rights which are also protected by the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights.'

See the website of the Digital Enlightenment Forum for more information and the programme of the meeting.

Analogue enlightenment - Luminara di San Ranieri, Pisa, 16 June 2012