At the ALDE Party Congress in Lisbon, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom organised a debate on the impact of digital technology on privacy and liberal proposals on data protection regulation. Gesine Meissner, MEP, opened her remarks by stating that “as liberals we want both, technological progress and high data protection standards”. Indeed, new technologies have not only created new potential for the economy and human interaction, they have also increased the scale of data collection in an unprecedented way. Revelations on mass-snooping of democratically elected governments on their citizens and nationals of other countries have set off mass outrage throughout the world. Governmental emphasis on control and security, especially since 9/11, has often happened at the expense of civil rights and personal freedom. However, as Markus Löning, Director of the Privacy Project, stated at the event “there is no compromise on fundamental rights”.
Thus, as Bruno Gencarelli, Head of Unit for Data Protection in the European Commission, noted, “it is essential to address the concerns of citizens and the business community”. He believes that we need “more transparency and legal certainty and to rebuilding trust”.
Inspite of the new data protection package presented by the European Commission, Gesine Meissner and Markus Löning believe that more needs to be done to protect people’s data. In Löning’s view, “95% of the people are not aware of what is happening with their data” and even worse, “German services are not respecting our fundamental rights”. Indeed, secret services are not subject to judicial control, nor parliamentary oversight.
In order to better address the issue, Löning proposes to build a coalition of the willing across Europe. “National parliaments should sit together and determine common standards”. We should also address the relation with the US. “Though we need strong relations with the United States, the trust has been undermined. We have to be tough! Kick them hard unless they will not move!”
The speakers did not believe building a European cloud or a European internet is the solution to US snooping on European citizens. As the problem not only stems from US snooping – European services violate people’s privacy rights too. The future of data protection should be based on cooperation on technology and the clarification of legal uncertainty. Drawing the parallel to the invention of cars more than 100 years ago, Löning explained how new technology created a legal void before and how societies have adapted by building a new regulatory framework.