EU Commissioner Vĕra Jourová says protection of personal data more than a “European” fundamental right

EU Commissioner, Vĕra Jourová, yesterday told the 37th International Privacy Conference in Amsterdam that the ECJ’s decision in the Schrems case “reaffirms once more that personal data protection is a fundamental right and that it applies also when personal data is transferred to third countries. The Commission respects the Court's ruling and will abide by it. And so must all stakeholders!”

She continued: “Too many Internet users today do not trust the Internet. Two thirds of them in the EU do not feel in complete control of their personal data. Another 42% worry that their online payments are not safe. We must always bear in mind that a strong economy and a thriving society rest primarily on one powerful human feeling, trust. This is why we launched in 2012 the data protection reform. The negotiations are now in the final stages, and I confident that a final result will be reached by the end of this year.”

She said that the new Data Protection Regulation “will strengthen and better protect people's fundamental rights and freedoms…will also restore trust in the internet and the Digital Single Market…will simplify companies' legal environment…will create a level playing field for all companies offering goods or services online and by doing so, will boost the European digital economy….European data protection authorities will have more power to uphold the fundamental right to data protection.”

She went beyond what might be expected by stating that the Regulation would become “a model of governance for other areas of EU law.” This would be achieved by the European Commission working with the national DPAs “to ensure a harmonised interpretation and application of the new rules.”

She also stressed an important role for Non Governmental Organisations. “I also rely on civil society to uphold and help enforce the right to data protection. When the new laws are in place, any organisation involved in personal data protection will be entitled to take legal action on behalf of people.”

International aspects

“And let me be clear, Europe is not – and never will be – a ‘digital island’".

The Commission is committed to ensuring that EU’s fundamental rights to privacy and the protection of personal data are fully guaranteed by a robust legal framework for data protection, including for international transfers of personal data. The Commission will continue to engage at international level to promote and develop international privacy and personal data protection standards.”

She expressed confidence that “modern and robust and uniform data protection rules in the EU will be a competitive advantage for our businesses in the digital age” and encouraged countries outside the EU to “sign the Council of Europe’s Convention for the Protection of Individuals, with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data.”

She stressed the importance of “strong and independent enforcement authorities applying these new laws” and called upon “data protection supervisory authorities across the globe to step up their cooperation for effective protection of all citizens' rights.”

EU-US Safe Harbour

She said that the European Commission will publish a Communication explaining the ECJ’s judgment but that a new general framework with the US is necessary. “Only a comprehensive framework with commitments and enforcement by the US authorities can ensure in practice the level of data protection Europeans deserve and are entitled to under EU data protection law.”

The ECJ’s judgment “allows for such an arrangement but set criteria for it. This is why we have immediately resumed discussions with our American counterparts both at political and technical level….. [We] will also need more clarity regarding the limitations and safeguards when it comes to access of data for law enforcement and national security purposes.”

She referred to the aim that “the EU and the US also develop a mutual understanding of their respective privacy cultures and that they work together on practical and technological solutions, for instance in the area of ‘privacy by design’".

“The protection of personal data is more than a “European” fundamental right it is a right for everyone around the globe.”