Data protection is an asset, not a burden

Technological progress and globalisation have changed the way our data is collected and used. In January, the European Commission proposed a reform of the EU’s 1995 data protection rules to strengthen online privacy rights and boost Europe’s digital economy.

On invitation of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and the Ludwig von Mises Institute Europe, Alexander Alvaro MEP, Vice-President of the European Parliament, Anthony Whelan, Head of the Cabinet of Neelie Kroes, Commissioner for Digital Agenda and Vice-President of the European Commission, Michael Backes, Professor for Information Security and Cryptography at the Department of Computer Science of Saarland University and Peter J. Bisa, Executive Director of TACTUM Agency for Technology, Technology Marketing and Consulting came together at the European Parliament to present their views on the proposal.

Every branch of the economy will be affected by a new data protection regulation, which is why the EU needs a robust framework. “The digital environment will be the backbone of our economies”, Alvaro said. Therefore it is crucial to invest in consumer trust to enhance economic growth. Today 72% of the Europeans are concerned about how companies use their personal data. “Companies need to understand that data protection is an asset, not a burden.” Success in strengthening consumer confidence in the safety of the internet will automatically result in economic growth. Whelan added that one set of rules “without national twist” is preferable to 27 national data protection regimes that are only loosely coherent. Eventually there would be a lot less red tape and the cost reduction of companies trading internationally would largely outweigh the cost burden for companies that only trade nationally.

Alvaro warned, though, that since a horizontal issue is concerned every decision-taking body of the EU will be involved and it might take another two years, before the directive would finally come into force – at the latest before the next European Parliament elections. Bisa also emphasized the “utmost political relevance” of the regulation since it will set the trend for the next 30 years. “Data is the oil of the future,” he said. Both Alvaro and Bisa pointed out that the new proposal was also a singular chance to streamline legislation between the EU and the USA.

In response to the widely spread public discontentment that followed the announcement of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), Alvaro offered all citizens the chance to suggest amendments to the current legislative proposal on his website. Whelan agreed that proposals were always perfectable and welcomed this interaction with the citizens.

While Bisa feared that the majority of users would ignore the importance of data protection, Backes was convinced that as soon as the cititzens were informed about privacy, they would care about it. Not too long ago, personal data could still efficiently be protected by using pseudonyms. Nowadays, the protection of personal data is a much more sensitive and complex issue as the amount of data has increased exponentially and companies have better means to store and reuse it. Data has become very valuable. Consequently, data abuse in the shape of surveillance, phishing, spamming, and profiling has become a threat to everyone using the internet. The technological possibilities to protect data have evolved equally. Technology at present can help protect privacy in many ways, Backes explained, and so will legal constraints, but essentially the internet user needs to be aware already at a young age that information once published can in most cases never again be removed from the world wide web entirely.

Christina Brunnenkamp