Thursday the European Union approved new data protection rules to help strengthen on line privacy, streamline legislation between the 28 member states, and boost police and security cooperation.
The rules will create a strong data protection law for Europe’s 500 million citizens, replacing an outdated patchwork of national rules that only allow for tiny fines in cases of violation. There will be a right to be forgotten, that means consumers can ask for non essential information to be deleted from web searches, such as Google.
The rules also state that individuals must give their clear and affirmative consent before private data is processed by companies or governments. The point became important after leaks two years ago showed supposed widespread US government snooping of European data such as phone calls and emails.
New rules also allow the streamlining of data transfers for policing and judicial purposes, improving security in the wake of the November 13th attacks in Paris which killed 130 people, along side last months suicide bombings in Brussels which left 32 people dead. Privacy has become a hot topic amid the pressure by companies to get information on consumers as well as the needs of security services to have as much data as possible on suspects involved in extremist attacks.
European parliament’s president, Martin Schulz said “The security of European citizens should never be ensured at the expense of their rights and freedoms.”
He welcomed the new rules as crucial steps in the digital age when the privacy of consumers has come under greater threat. Commercially there also is a lot of stake and the parliament’s chief negotiator, Jan Philipp Albrecht, has said that firms breaching EU data protection rules could be fined as much as 4 percent of annual turnover, which could amount to billions in dollars.
After four years of fierce political battles between industry and privacy groups, the rules should now become official within a two year span.
“Citizens will be able to decide for themselves which personal information they want to share. This reform is a great success for the European Parliament and ta fierce European yes to strong consumer rights and competition in the digital age. This will also create clarity for businesses by establishing a single law across the EU. The new law creates confidence, legal certainty and a fairer competition.” said Albrecht.
Brussels is seeking to extend the EU single market to the digital era. The new regulations will be enforced 20 days after their publication in the EU Official Journal. The directives provisions will only apply to a limited extent in the UK and Ireland, while Denmark can decide within six months after the final adoption whether it wants the make them into law.
“These new laws will ensure that the fundamental right to personal data protection is upheld for all European citizens, and they will help to stimulate the digital single market in the EU by fostering trust in on line services by consumers and certainty for businesses,” the commission’s First Vice President Frans Timmermans said after the vote in Stransbourg, France.