Thursday, February 09, 2012

European Commission Proposes General Privacy Regulation

This posting was written by Thomas A. Long, Editor of CCH Privacy Law in Marketing.

The European Commission has released a proposed comprehensive reform of the European Union’s 1995 data protection rules. According to the EC, the proposed changes will strengthen online privacy rights and boost Europe's digital economy.

The proposals include a policy Communication setting out the Commission's objectives and two legislative proposals: a Regulation setting out a general EU framework for data protection and a Directive on protecting personal data processed for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of criminal offences and related judicial activities.

Key changes in the proposed legislation include:
• There will be a single set of rules on data protection, valid across the EU.

• The new framework will increase responsibility and accountability for those processing personal data.

• Companies and organizations will be required to notify the national supervisory authority of serious data breaches as soon as possible.

• Organizations will only have to deal with a single national data protection authority in the EU country where they have their main establishment.

• Wherever consent is required for data to be processed, it is clarified that it has to be given explicitly, rather than implicitly.

• People will have easier access to their own data and will be able to transfer personal data from one service provider to another more easily.

• Under the regulation’s “right to be forgotten,” people will be able to delete their data if there are no legitimate grounds for retaining it.

• EU rules must apply if personal data is handled abroad by companies that are active in the EU market and offer their services to EU citizens.

• Independent national data protection authorities will be strengthened, with the power to issue fines of up to €1 million or up to 2% of the global annual turnover of a company.

The new data protection framework is needed to reflect technological advances and the effects of globalization on the ways information is collected, accessed, and used, the EC said. In addition, the 27 EU Member States have implemented the 1995 rules differently, resulting in divergences in enforcement.

A single law would eliminate the current fragmentation and costly administrative burdens, leading to estimated savings for businesses of around €2.3 billion a year.

“Seventeen years ago less than 1% of Europeans used the internet. Today, vast amounts of personal data are transferred and exchanged, across continents and around the globe in fractions of seconds,” said EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, the Commission’s Vice-President.

“The protection of personal data is a fundamental right for all Europeans, but citizens do not always feel in full control of their personal data,” Reding said.

“My proposals will help build trust in online services because people will be better informed about their rights and in more control of their information. The reform will accomplish this while making life easier and less costly for businesses.”

The Commission's proposals will now be passed on to the European Parliament and EU Member States for discussion. They will take effect two years after they have been adopted.

The Proposed Directive can be found here.

The Proposed Regulation can be found here.

Background documents can be found here.

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