Information society, privacy and data protection

Safeguarding fundamental rights in today’s information society is a key issue for the EU and increasingly for FRA as more and more people use information and communications technologies (ICT) in their daily lives at work and at home.

However, this growing use of ICT is creating fundamental rights challenges. These range from concerns about privacy and the potential misuse of personal data online to the threats posed by cybercrime or large-scale surveillance operations. As a result, every EU citizen may, at some point, face violations of their fundamental rights, such as their right to privacy, freedom of expression or freedom of association.

In line with the positions taken by international organisations such as the United Nations and the Council of Europe, FRA supports the view that, despite the specific challenges posed by the increasing use of digital technologies, it is essential to ensure that fundamental rights are promoted and protected online in the same way and to the same extent as in the offline world. Recognising this, the Cybersecurity Strategy of the EU has underlined the impact of ICTs – and in particular the Internet – as follows: “Our daily life, fundamental rights, social interactions and economies depend on information and communication technology working seamlessly. (…) Fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law need to be protected in cyberspace”. In the Code of EU Online Rights, the European Commission has underlined that “the fundamental rights and freedoms of natural persons as guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and the general principles of EU Law shall be respected in this context.”

In this regard, one of FRA’s objectives is to help the EU and its Member States to find the right balance between the challenges linked to security and respect of fundamental rights. Through its socio-legal approach to data collection, the agency combines its legal analysis with findings from social research fieldwork related to information society, data protection and fundamental rights issues. The results of our research serve to inform both policy makers and practitioners at national and EU level working in this field.

EU legislative and policy context

Data protection is a fundamental right enshrined in Article 8 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is distinct from respect for private and family life contained in Article 7 of the Charter. This feature sets the EU Charter apart from other major human rights documents which, for the most part, treat the protection of personal data as an extension of the right to privacy.

Historically, the EU has played a crucial role in driving the development and introduction of national data protection law in a number of legal systems where such legislation was not previously in place. A 1995 EU directive on the protection of individuals regarding the processing of personal data and the free movement of such data was a vital instrument in this respect. With the overall reform of the data protection framework initiated by the European Commission in 2012, once adopted - the EU will have the most protective regional legal framework in the field of data protection.

An updated overview of the implementation of the Charter related to the right to the protection of personal data is available via the FRA’s Charterpedia web page.

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FRA study on Member States' legal framework on surveillance

The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) has published a report today looking into the legal arrangements that govern intelligence services and their surveillance practices in the EU Member States. It underlines the challenges of protecting citizens while safeguarding the fundamental rights that underpin European societies.

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Findings available

Handbook on European data protection case law

FRA has produced a handbook, in partnership with the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which presents and explains European data protection law in a straightforward way for those working in this area.

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Fundamental rights: challenges and achievements in 2014 - Annual report

Annual report
European Union (EU) Member States and institutions introduced a number of legal and policy measures in 2014 to safeguard fundamental rights in the EU. Notwithstanding these efforts, a great deal remains to be done, and it can be seen that the situation in some areas is alarming: the number of migrants rescued or apprehended at sea as they were trying to reach Europe’s borders quadrupled over 2013; more than a quarter of children in the EU are at risk of poverty or social exclusion; and an increasing number of political parties use xenophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric in their campaigns, potentially increasing some people’s vulnerability to becoming victims of crime or hate crime.

Fundamental rights: key legal and policy developments in 2013. Highlights 2013

Annual report
The EU and its Member States took a variety of important steps in 2013 to protect and promote fundamental rights by assuming new international commitments, revamping legislation and pursuing innovative policies on the ground. Yet, fundamental rights violations seized the spotlight with distressing frequency: would‑be migrants drowning off the EU’s coast, unprecedented mass surveillance, racist and extremist‑motivated murders, child poverty and Roma deprivation.