Strengthening a ’modern’ human right: data protection in the EU

European Data Protection Day is a time to remember that our personal data is all about us. They form part of our human identity and are intrinsically linked to our private life, and need strong safeguards.

Therefore, it is no surprise that the European Court for Human Rights has been protecting our right to respect private and family life under the European Convention on Human Rights. In addition, the EU’s very own bill of rights, the Charter of Fundamental Rights underlines the importance of data protection by dedicating a self-standing article to this right that has become so central to our increasingly digital lives. This article on the protection of personal data tells us three things: our data can be used only for specified purposes, only after consent, and we have the right to access the data collected about us.

In reality, many people across the EU are concerned about how their data are being protected. Over 90% of Europeans strongly believe in the need to protect their personal data, according to a recent Eurobarometer survey. At the same time over 90% want the same data protection rights across the EU, regardless of where their data are processed. The EU’s new data protection rules that were adopted in May 2016 hope to make this a reality with considerably stronger data protection safeguards.

The aim is to empower users. People should regain control of their personal data. Users have the ‘right to be forgotten’, a ‘right of data portability’, greater access to their data and the possibility to demand the end of use of their data. They can also sue for compensation if they feel these rights are being violated.

The new wide-ranging rules will have an impact on everything that holds or uses personal data in and out of Europe. They aim to ensure data protection by design and by default. This means safeguards should be inbuilt to products and services from the earliest stage of development, and privacy-friendly default settings should become the norm – for example on social networks or mobile apps.

The rules will take effect two years after they were formally adopted in May 2016 without the need for implementing national legislation. These modern rules should bring this modern right centre stage. Ultimately, they should better promote and protect the rights of everyone of us as we live and work in today’s digital age.