The Digital Single Market & Data Protection Reform

( A Rough Guide)

The European Commission put forward its EU Data Protection Reform in January 2012 to make Europe fit for the digital age (IP/12/46). Today, (15-12-2015) an agreement was found with the European Parliament and the Council, following final negotiations between the three institutions (so-called ‘trilogue’ meetings).

On the face of it this should not be a contentious reform, what is not to like about opening up trade and improving consumers rights. With more than 90% of Europeans say they want the same data protection rights across the EU – and regardless of where their data is processed: this will soon be a reality. The Reform package will put an end to the patchwork of data protection rules that currently exists in the EU.

Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, said: “Today’s (15-12-2015) agreement is a major step towards a Digital Single Market. It will remove barriers and unlock opportunities. The digital future of Europe can only be built on trust. With solid common standards for data protection, people can be sure they are in control of their personal information. And they can enjoy all the services and opportunities of a Digital Single Market. We should not see privacy and data protection as holding back economic activities. They are, in fact, an essential competitive advantage. Today’s agreement builds a strong basis to help Europe develop innovative digital services. Our next step is now to remove unjustified barriers which limit cross-border data flow: local practice and sometimes national law, limiting storage and processing of certain data outside national territory. So let us move ahead and build an open and thriving data economy in the EU – based on the highest data protection standards and without unjustified barriers.”

Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality said, “Today (15-12-2015) we deliver on the promise of the Juncker Commission to finalize data protection reform in 2015. These new pan-European rules are good for citizens and good for businesses. Citizens and businesses will profit from clear rules that are fit for the digital age, that give strong protection and at the same time create opportunities and encourage innovation in a European Digital Single Market. And harmonised data protection rules for police and criminal justice authorities will ease law enforcement cooperation between Member States based on mutual trust, contributing to the European Agenda for Security.”

The parliament urged a more open approach to providing digital goods and services, and called for the EU to be more proactive in seizing on the opportunities around big data, cloud, the internet of things and 3D printing.

Its recommendations to boost the Digital Single Market were approved by 551 votes to 88, with 39 abstentions.

High on the agenda was the banning of geo-blocking practices, which prevent many EU citizens from accessing online goods and services on the basis of their IP address, postal address or country of issue of credit cards.

The resolution described this practice as “unjustified” and said it must end. MEPs supported the proposal on improving cross-border portability of online content services within the EU as a good first step, but also called for legislators to go further and ensure equivalent and future-proofed consumer protection, whether digital content was bought on or offline.

 

The Reform consists of two instruments:

  • The General Data Protection Regulation will enable people to better control their personal data. At the same time modernised and unified rules will allow businesses to make the most of the opportunities of the Digital Single Market by cutting red tape and benefiting from reinforced consumer trust.

The Data Protection Directive for the police and criminal justice sector will ensure that the data of victims, witnesses, and suspects of crimes, are duly protected in the context of a criminal investigation or a law enforcement action. At the same time more harmonised laws will also facilitate cross-border cooperation of police or prosecutors to combat crime and terrorism more effectively across Europe.

Parliament said it was concerned about differing national approaches taken by the EU member states to regulating the internet and the so-called sharing economy – adopted with great enthusiasm by the UK.

MEPs asked the EC to assess the need to enforce more consumer protection within the sharing economy and to ensure the adequacy of consumer-related rules in the digital sphere.

MEPs also called for a review of the ePrivacy directive to ensure consistency of its provisions with the new EU data protection rules.

“Europe has already missed two waves of innovation,” said industry committee co-rapporteur, Kaja Kallas. “First social networks, then the sharing economy. If we don’t want to miss the next wave, we have to look to the internet of things, big data and machine-to-machine communication.

“They can radically transform our economy – and our legislation needs to reflect that.”

 

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