Action needed to better reinforce data protection rights

Web-based activities, including social media, account for most data protection violations, according to FRA research into data protection remedies published earlier this year. While people rarely turn to courts to seek redress, a student has recently launched a collective redress lawsuit against Facebook, accusing the social network of violating data protection law and supporting America's National Security Agency activities.

The Austrian law student, Max Schrems, has called for 1 billion Facebook users to join his case that he filed on 31 July. So far, over 20,000 users have responded.

Max Schrems had spoken earlier to FRA about his work to get Facebook to respect the right to data protection during its Fundamental Rights Platform on 10 April. His work supported the findings from FRA’s earlier work which pointed to data protection violations resulting from the widespread use of information and communication technologies (ICT) by public and private bodies. FRA showed how victims mostly turn to data protection authorities rather than courts. It also revealed a general lack of awareness of rights and the existence of data protection authorities that serve to protect victims. To improve victims’ access to data protection remedies, the FRA report that resulted from this work makes a number of suggestions and underlined the important role played by NGOs, like Max Schrems, to protection victims’ rights.

The EU is currently reforming and strengthening its current data protection rules. This is partly in response to the growing reliance on ICT in the daily lives of Europeans at work and at home, and the need to protect and reinforce data protection rights.

Data protection was also a cause for concern in the wake of revelations about large-scale data surveillance programmes. In response, the European Parliament asked FRA to look into the protection of fundamental rights in the context of such programmes being carried out by national intelligence authorities. FRA will look at the safeguards and remedies that currently exist. The findings should be available towards the end of 2014.