10/03/2014 08:51 GMT | Updated 09/05/2014 06:59 BST

Data Protection: The Shape of Things to Come


The way personal data will be used and protected in Europe will change as a result of decisions to be taken this week. The European Parliament will vote on rules governing the collection and use of personal data, including for law enforcement purposes. In addition MEPs will vote on recommendations to prevent the abuse of mass surveillance. A parliamentary committee investigated the electronic mass surveillance of Europeans for nearly six months, following revelations by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden last year, and came up with a number of concrete suggestions to avoid further abuse, on which MEPs will vote.

Need for change

Current data protection rules have not been updated for 19 years. Since then much has changed. Not only has technology rapidly evolved, making it easier for companies and government to collect and analyse data on a larger scale, attitudes have also changed. Many now voluntarily share personal information on social media platforms.

Better protection

The aim of the new legislation is to establish a comprehensive approach to data protection, making it easier to enforce the rules, harmonising legislation across Europe and clarifying how organisations based outside the EU should deal with Europeans' data. But most importantly, it is about strengthening people's rights.

Jan Philipp Albrecht is in charge of steering the new data protection rules through the Parliament. The German MEP welcomes the European Commission proposal, but believes there is scope for further improvement, such as more detailed wording to ensure legal certainty.

Mr Albrecht believes the best way for people to stay in control of their data is for data protection to be based on consent. Information should be presented in easily comprehensible forms and data should only be used for the purpose for which it was collected. Mr Albrecht also argues for the right to erase and to rectify. People should be free to object to further data processing and must be informed of their rights in clear and plain language, he says. Finally, there should be better possibilities for effective redress.

MEPs will debate his report and amendments on Tuesday and vote on them the following day.

Data used in law enforcement

There is a separate proposal dealing with the use of data in criminal matters. The challenge is how to make best use of personal data to fight crime without sacrificing fundamental rights.

Dimitrios Droutsas has been responsible for scrutinising the Commission plans on behalf of the Parliament. The Greek MEP stressed there was a real need to clarify various issues. He believes that the processing of personal data should be lawful, fair and transparent and should only be used for the purpose for which it was collected. There also needs to be an evaluation mechanism to check if data processing is necessary and meets its goal. Mr Droutsos also said stronger safeguards are needed before allowing the transfer of personal data to countries outside the EU.

NSA inquiry

Following last year's revelations about the electronic mass surveillance of Europeans, the EP set up a committee of inquiry, led by British MEP Claude Moraes. After 15 meetings with EU and US experts, including business leaders, academics and journalists, the committee has come up with a final report including recommendations. According to the resolution, data protection should be kept outside the ongoing EU-US trade talks and be separately negotiated. However, it recommends the EU suspends its bank data deal with the US.

MEPs will debate the report on Tuesday and vote on it on Wednesday.

Next steps

The data protection rules will also have to be approved by the Council before they can enter into law. The recommendations from the NSA inquiry, once adopted, will be forwarded to the Commission for further action.

Photo copyright FutUndBeidl (released under Creative Commons License)