Internet firms concerned over EU data protection proposals

Internet firms such as Facebook may have to get permission to use data if the EU adopts proposals giving users more control over personal data

Internet firms such as Facebook and Google may be forced to get explicit permission to use information if European Union (EU) lawmakers adopt the latest proposals to give users more control over their personal data.

The call for strong and enforceable rights is among a raft of proposed amendments to the draft European data protection reform framework made by rapporteurs of two European parliamentary committees.

The European Commission (EC) rapporteurs called for a bigger role for consent and limits to be imposed on companies’ ability to use and sell data, such as internet browsing habits, to advertising companies.

"Users must be informed about what happens with their data," said Jan Philipp Albrecht, rapporteur for the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE).

Albrecht said national authorities might be allowed to levy fines ranging from 0.5% to 2.0% of annual turnover for compromising customer data, which could include losing or divulging the data.

Albrecht also proposes further reinforcing the “right to be forgotten” (the right to erase one’s data if there are no legitimate grounds to retain it) by asking companies which have transferred data to third parties without a legitimate legal basis to make sure these data are erased.

Facebook, Google and other data-reliant sectors such as health services, rail and smart-meter makers have been among the first to voice concerns about the new proposals, according to The Guardian.

EU digital market in the balance

The paper quotes Facebook’s EU policy head Erika Mann as saying: "We are concerned that some aspects of the report do not support a flourishing European digital single market and the reality of innovation on the internet."

The amount of online data collected and sold has grown rapidly and privacy advocates estimate a Facebook user can make $10 a year for the company by clicking on ads.

Earlier this week, the EC welcomed support for strong EU data protection reform by Albrecht and Dimitrios Droutsas, rapporteur for the law enforcement sector.

Both “express their full support for a coherent and robust data protection framework with strong end enforceable rights for individuals,” the EC said in a memo.

“The protection of personal data is a fundamental right for all Europeans. Opinion polls show that individuals do not always feel in full control of their data. Policy makers and companies must therefore do better,” said EC vice-president Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner.

Heated negotiations

Eduardo Ustaran, partner and head of the European data protection team at law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse, said:  "What was already a very complex piece of draft legislation has become by far the strictest, most wide-ranging and potentially difficult-to-navigate data protection law ever to be proposed.”

He believes the LIBE Committee's draft proposal represents a significant toughening of the Commission's draft. “Once it is agreed by the Parliament, heated negotiations with the Council of the EU and other stakeholders will follow,” Ustaran said.

The European parliament, the EC and the 27 member states will seek an agreement on the rules in coming months, with Albrecht's final report to be voted on in April.

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