Digital Single Market
Digital Economy & Society

Digital privacy

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EU rules ensure the privacy of your online communications.

When you access the web, you often entrust vital personal information to your Internet Service Provider and to the website you are using, such as your name, address, and credit card number. What happens to this data? Could it fall into the wrong hands? What rights do you have with regards to your personal information?

Common EU rules have been established to ensure that personal data enjoy a high standard of protection everywhere in the EU. The two main pillars of the data protection legal framework in the EU are the Data Protection Directive and the ePrivacy Directive (Directive on Privacy and Electronic communications).

The EU Data Protection Directive ensures that personal data can only be gathered under strict conditions and for legitimate purposes. Organisations that collect and manage your personal information must also protect it from misuse and respect certain rights.

The ePrivacy Directive builds on the EU telecoms and data protection frameworks to ensure that all communications over public networks maintain respect for fundamental rights, in particular a high level of privacy, regardless of the technology used. This Directive was last updated in 2009 to provide clearer rules on customers' rights to privacy. In particular, new requirements were introduced on data such as "cookies" and on personal data breaches.

In the past years, the Commission has started a major modernisation process of the data protection framework, which culminated in the recent agreement by the European Parliament and Council on the new General Data Protection Regulation. The new rules strengthen individual rights and tackle the challenges of globalisation and new technologies.

As part of this reform, in the Digital Single Market Strategy it is foreseen that the Commission will also review the rules on ePrivacy, to deliver a legislation that is fit for the digital age.

The Commission launched a public consultation in April 2016,  to seek stakeholders' input on a retrospective performance evaluation of the current law and the potential changes to these measures, with a view of presenting a new legislative proposal on ePrivacy by the end of 2016.  The objectives of the review are the following:

  • Ensuring consistency between the ePrivacy rules and the future General Data Protection Regulation
  • Updating the scope of the ePrivacy Directive in light of the new market and technological reality
  • Enhancing security and confidentiality of communications
  • Addressing inconsistent enforcement and fragmentation

Informed consent for "cookies" and other devices

The new rules require Member States to ensure that users grant their consent before cookies (small text files stored in the user's web browser) are stored and accessed in computers, smartphones or other device connected to the Internet. The Commission has encouraged the media and the advertising industry to develop codes of conduct to implement new user-friendly rules, given they comply with the legal requirements of the Directive.

Personal data breaches

Telecom operators and Internet Service Providers possess a huge amount of customers data,  which must be kept confidential and secure. However, sometimes sensible information can be stolen or lost, or illegally accessed. The new rules set out by the Commission ensure that the provider reports any "personal data breach" to the national authority and informs the subscriber or individual directly of any risk related to personal data or privacy. The Commission is currently preparing additional rules to make sure that the personal data breaches are reported in a consistent way across the EU.

Consult the List of National Competent Authorities and the European Commission websites on Data Protection for related information.

Data Protection for RFID applications

Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFID) are increasingly used in ticketing, healthcare, banking, logistics, electronic identity, retail and many other sectors and create privacy risks. With the adoption of EU-wide norms for RFID applications in June 2014, the EU Commission has completed the actions as specified in the 2009 released EU Recommendation on RFID applications.

The EU-norm on the information signs will inform citizens when RFIDs are present, and the privacy impact assessment process (PIA) framework will help developers, retailers and other RFID application users to be compliant with the EU data protection legislation. 

Refer to the press release for more information.

Last updated on 30/06/2016 - 17:28
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Joran Frik's picture
Joran FRIK
European Commission and Member States organised an event bringing together the private sector to consider how best to benefit from the new Regulation on Electronic Identification and Trust Services (eIDAS). The "Gatsby" style Metropole Hotel provided a great backdrop for an open discussion about how to work together.
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