Data protection and digital single market struggle to combine in Europe

Given the extraordinary boom of the digital economy, Europeans’ data protection should be a priority, according to Director General for Justice and Consumers Tiina Astola. EURACTIV Spain reports.

Despite a growing number of cyber attacks in Europe and the increased use of the Internet by criminal and terrorist groups, Tiina Astola, head of DG Justice, delivered a positive message during the fourth Congress of European Notaries in Santiago de Compostela.

“The new EU law on data protection that will enter into force in May 2018 is highly advanced. We are at the forefront of data protection in Europe. We did a lot of work to get here,” she said.

She added there is no space for indulgence in a network increasingly vulnerable to cybercriminals’ attacks: “Even if the level of data protection in the EU is high, the Commission hopes these norms will be enforced. It is not enough to have a good law, it is necessary to enact it.”

The Commission is working side by side with national authorities to ensure the mechanism is perfectly oiled, she said. Indeed, the justice portfolio is always under member states’ competences – and not the EU’s.

However, the protection of Europeans’ data goes beyond continental borders: “Europe cooperates with third countries and one example of this cooperation is the Privacy Shield, allowing the data of Europeans travelling to the US to be protected under US jurisdiction.”

The European Commission hopes to enlarge this deal to other countries on other continents, like Japan or South Korea, wherever data transfer is needed for Europe’s economy.

Complementarity

According to Astola, consumers’ data protection should come before the need to create a single European digital market.

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She highlighted there is no trade-off between the protection and respect for private life and job creation in the digital economy. “The two should be compatible and complementary.”

“If European consumers feel their data is protected, they would be more at ease when buying on the internet and would enhance their gains from the international market. The concept of private life must interlock with the market for private data. If the European citizen trusts the system, this will allow for increased growth in e-commerce and jobs”, she said.

Complementarity is the question for Brussels. Digital policy was the focus of the last summit in Tallinn, and Commission President Jean Claude Juncker also tackled this topic during his State of the Union speech in September.

Despite the enthusiasm surrounding the digital economy, Tiina Astola regrets that key actors (governments, businesses and consumers) are reluctant to play by the rules.

“I would like again to stress the words ‘law enforcement’. EU laws are useless if they are not applied.”

Striking the right ePrivacy balance to foster digital innovation

The mobile ecosystem is flourishing, providing a platform for innovation that is generating employment opportunities and spurring the creation of new services, writes Afke Schaart.