Data protection: good for citizens and good for business

#CriticalThinking

Digital & Data Governance

Picture of Jan Philipp Albrecht
Jan Philipp Albrecht

Deputy Minister-President of Schleswig-Holstein. Former member of the European Parliament

Even before the revelations by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, citizens felt a growing unease about the amounts of their personal data being collected. But there was little they could do. Not everybody is as determined as Max Schrems, the Viennese law student who has been pursuing Facebook in Ireland for more than two years. For the rest of us, there have seemed two options: Either we become increasingly reluctant to use services that collect our data, track our movements, assess our interests and creditworthiness, and thereby contribute to missed business opportunities. Or, we give up and accept that we live in a state of constant surveillance by signing the biggest lie on the Internet: “I have read and accept the terms and conditions.”

Neither of these options is desirable. Citizens want services they can trust, and businesses want more happy customers. We all want unfair competitors to be deterred from playing against the rules. To restore trust in the digital market, the EU is working on a new data protection regulation. It will replace the member states’ 28 different laws by a single directly applicable law, giving legal certainty across Europe’s digital market. This will dramatically simplify compliance with data protection rules. We suggest reducing bureaucratic burdens when they do not directly serve users in exercising their rights. We also insist there should be heavy fines to deter wrongdoers.

High standards for data protection are a condition for growth and innovation in the digital market. Many of the most successful new services businesses in Europe already today implement privacy-by-design principles and apply for data protection and data security seals. Economic growth and fruitful competition will depend on clear rules and strong respect of citizens’ rights. In a post-Snowden world, this will be a strong competitive advantage for Europe.

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