peech – Competition and personal data protection, Commissioner Joaquín Almunia

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank Ms In ‘t Veld for her kind invitation to join this meeting of the Privacy Platform initiative.

Privacy – and the many delicate issues associated with it – is becoming one of the central debates of our time.

Thanks to technological and commercial developments, growing amounts of information can be collected about individuals.

As a result, the ability and the incentive of companies to gather, manipulate and trade personal data have never been stronger.

Almost every day brings new, sophisticated methods to collect and process information from unsuspecting users.

Today, we are asked to submit personal information all the time. We cannot send flowers online or book a flight without giving away our names, addresses, and credit-card numbers.

Yet, only 18% of online shoppers think they are in complete control of their personal data.

In fairness, the treatment of personal data should not be demonised. Companies can use information about their clients to tailor a service to their specific needs.

But there is a delicate trade-off between privacy and better service and this is precisely why we need debates such as the one we’re having today.

The respect of private and family life and the protection of personal data are much bigger issues than just a commercial debate.

In fact, they are freedoms enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

How are these fundamental rights implemented in the EU?

The main European law that protects the privacy of individuals with regard to the processing and free movement of personal data is the Data Protection Directive of 1995 and the national laws that implement it.

The Directive became operational when the internet was still in its infancy. Things have changed a lot since then. Today, 250 million people use the internet daily in Europe.

It is clear that the protection of personal data in Europe must evolve. Last January the Commission approved the draft for a broader and more robust Regulation to replace the 1995 Directive.

When the Regulation becomes operational, it will protect all EU residents even if their personal data are held by companies outside the Union; and it will ensure the ‘right of portability’ and the ‘right to be forgotten’.

These important changes address a growing concern among Europeans. 70% of Europeans think that their personal data held by companies may be used for a purpose other than that for which they were collected.

The data-protection reform will help remove real and perceived barriers to the internal market by providing harmonized legal protection.

This will benefit consumers and companies alike. A stronger, simpler and clearer data-protection framework will encourage companies to get the most out of the digital Single Market.

When the new Regulation becomes operational it will foster economic growth, innovation and job creation – and it will do so at no cost.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

The rights I’ve just described protect us from the unwarranted access to our private data.

But the treatment of personal data has at the same time important implications for the Single Market – just think of e-commerce. The treatment of personal information is a booming industry.

Firms with legitimate businesses hold vast amounts of personal data and analyse them to detect patterns of behaviour for different categories of people. Here to read more.

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