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

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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Status: 
Findings available

Update of handbook on European data protection law

FRA will update its handbook, in partnership with the European Data Protection Supervisor and the Council of Europe, which presents and explains European data protection law in a straightforward way for those working in this area.
Status: 
Ongoing

FRA guide on preventing unlawful profiling

The Agency will update and expand the scope of its 2010 guide on Discriminatory Ethnic Profiling. The new Guide will provide a general update of the analysis, taking into account legal and technological developments, and expanding the scope to include border management.

Latest publications View all

Fundamental Rights Report 2018
June
2018

Fundamental Rights Report 2018

Annual report
The year 2017 brought both progress and setbacks in terms of rights protection. The European Pillar of Social Rights marked an important move towards a more ‘social Europe’. But, as experiences with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights underscore, agreement on a text is merely a first step. Even in its eighth year as the EU's binding bill of rights, the Charter's potential was not fully exploited, highlighting the need to more actively promote its use.
Fundamental Rights Report 2018 - FRA opinions
June
2018

Fundamental Rights Report 2018 - FRA opinions

Annual report
The year 2017 brought both progress and setbacks in terms of fundamental rights protection. FRA’s Fundamental Rights Report 2018 reviews major developments in the EU between January and December 2017, and outlines FRA’s opinions thereon.
#BigData: Discrimination in data-supported decision making
May
2018

#BigData: Discrimination in data-supported decision making

Paper
We live in a world of big data, where technological developments in the area of machine learning and artificial intelligence have changed the way we live. Decisions and processes concerning everyday life are increasingly automated, based on data. This affects fundamental rights in various ways. This focus paper specifically deals with discrimination, a fundamental rights area particularly affected by technological developments.