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Celebrate European Data Protection Day - Keep consumers in control!

28 January 2009
by eub2 -- last modified 29 January 2009

Today is the Third European Data Protection Day. Privacy is a fundamental consumer right, that must be respected both offline and online. Yet consumers' privacy is currently more under threat than ever before.


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In an average week, most of us will check emails, our bank balance and pay bills online, phone friends or relatives from our mobile, search the web, use a contactless transport card to go to work, keep in touch with friends via online social networks, and shop online – all these activities leave digital footprints. Consumers use the Internet more and more, and new technologies give us new possibilities to buy and receive goods and services. But at what cost?  Consumers often do not even realise that their personal data is being collected, stored and used without their knowledge, or consent – and that this data has an economic value. This same data could also be exposed to "unwanted eyes", and could lead to identity theft or the diversion of sensitive information to undesirable third parties…

Today is the Third European Data Protection Day. Privacy is a fundamental consumer right, that must be respected both offline and online.  Yet consumers' privacy is currently more under threat than ever before. In the digital world in particular, consumers' right to the protection of their personal data is very often not enforced: consumers are faced with lack of transparency – especially through the very complex privacy policies of service providers. To remain in control, consumers should be properly informed and should give their consent before personal data is collected.

BEUC has identified three key areas currently being debated at European level that raise specific concerns:

E-privacy directive
The directive on privacy in electronic communications is currently being reviewed by the European Institutions within the so-called "Telecom Package". This directive should ensure consumers are directly notified in case a security breach occurs that could compromise their personal data. All companies that provide online services (that collect personal data) should be obliged to notify data breaches: this applies not only to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) but also to e-banks or on-line health services.

RFID
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology (which is a contactless technology allowing data to be accessed at a distance) is steadily creeping into our daily lives, in our transport passes, store loyalty and library cards, highway express toll passes or ski passes, thus allowing consumers' movements and activities to be tracked. In addition, some applications are not properly protected – for example some public transport cards allow anyone equipped with a (very cheap) RFID reader to walk beside you and to get access to your full name, date of birth, postcode and the last three trips you've taken! We are still waiting for the European Commission to adopt their long-awaited Recommendation on RFID, focusing on privacy, data protection and security aspects of this technology…

Graduated response
The so-called "graduated response", also being discussed in the Telecom Package, would mean an invasion of internet users' privacy for the purposes of enforcing copyright. BEUC rejects this approach as a disproportionate solution that puts in jeopardy fundamental rights of individual freedom and privacy. Rightholders such as movie and music companies would require Internet Service Providers to monitor consumers' online behaviour, in order to first threaten and then cut off presumed infringers of intellectual property rights from access to the Internet.

Monique Goyens, Director General of BEUC stated: "Today is a welcome occasion to raise consumers' awareness and to highlight the many threats to privacy they face, particularly in the digital environment… It is high time to ensure consumers have real control over their personal data, and to enforce their fundamental right to privacy."

The European Consumers' Organisation (BEUC) was created in 1962 by the consumer organisations of Belgium, Luxembourg, France, the Netherlands, Italy and Germany. After working together for a number of years, these organisations decided to create a European association, based in Brussels, right at the heart of Community policy. BEUC was a pioneer, one of the first lobbying organisations to set up base in the European capital in a bid to influence the decision-making process.

BEUC - European Consumers' Organisation