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. In May 2016, the EU’s revised data protection rules entered into force, and will apply at the national level from May 2018.