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Data protection - Safeguarding your privacy

Citizens' rights 28-01-2014 - 09:51 / Updated: 18-06-2015 - 16:06

New technologies allow us to stay connected on the run and to keep in touch with our friends, but they also pose new threats to our privacy. Since 2012 MEPs have been working on an overhaul of EU data protection legislation to ensure people stay in control of their personal information in the digital world. Parliament adopted its position in March 2014 and had to wait until June 2015 for the Council to do the same and allow the start of negotiations on the final text. (Read more: Data protection: Keeping your privacy)

Data forms an integral part of international trade as they are used to improve services and products, however it remains important that people's personal data are not abused. The international trade and civil liberties committees held a hearing on 16 June to discuss how to reconcile the need for data protection with trade agreements that boost business in the EU, an issue that has gained in importance due to the upcoming reform of EU data protection rules. (Read more: Trade agreements: how to ensure they comply with EU data protection rules)

MEPs inserted stronger safeguards for EU citizens’ personal data that gets transferred to non-EU countries in a major overhaul of the EU’s data protection laws voted on Wednesday. The new rules aim both to give people more control over their personal data and to make it easier for firms to work across borders, by ensuring that the same rules apply in all EU member states. MEPs also increased the fines to be imposed on firms that break the rules, to up to €100 million or 5% of global turnover. (Read more: MEPs tighten up rules to protect personal data in the digital era)

Conclusion time: after months of investigating mass surveillance by the NSA in Europe, the EP inquiry has finished penning its findings. The inquiry was launched last year in the wake of revelations by NSA whistle-blower Edward Showden and involved more than 15 hearings with representatives of EU institutions, national parliaments, the US Congress, IT firms, NGOs and journalists. The civil liberties committee votes on the draft report on 12 February. Read on to discover what MEPs found out. (Read more: NSA inquiry: what experts revealed to MEPs)

The EU should suspend its Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) agreement with the US in response to the US National Security Agency's alleged tapping of EU citizens' bank data held by the Belgian company SWIFT, says a non-binding resolution voted by Parliament on Wednesday. (Read more: MEPs call for suspension of EU-US bank data deal in response to NSA snooping)

US surveillance of the internet: major threat to people's privacy or a storm in a tea cup? Opinions have been divided in discussions on our social media platforms. While the Parliament conducts an inquiry to discover the truth about the revelations by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, find out what the people affected have had to say about it. (Read more: Online privacy: NSA revelations spark heated debates on social media)

Are allegations of the NSA misusing SWIFT banking data true and if so, should this lead to cooperation on terrorism being suspended? These are the questions dealt with during the third hearing of the civil liberties committee's inquiry into the electronic mass surveillance of Europeans on 24 September. If the SWIFT allegations are proved true, it could have consequences for the EU-US Terrorist Finance Tracking (TFTP) programme, which aims to detect terrorist plots and the people involved. (Read more: MEPs raise concerns over alleged NSA misuse of Europeans' personal bank data)

Allegations of US surveillance of Europe have rocked relations between the two just when negotiations on a transatlantic free-trade agreement were due to begin. Parliament has launched an inquiry into the Prism scandal, but many MEPs agree it will be challenging to restore trust between the two partners. We discussed the issue with former Greek foreign minister Dimitris Droutsas, a member of the S&D group who is responsible for steering new cross border data processing rules through Parliament. (Read more: We must not water down our high standards for data protection - Dimitris Droutsas)

Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee will conduct an "in-depth inquiry" into the US surveillance programmes, including the bugging of EU premises and other spying allegations, and present its results by the end of this year, says a resolution passed by the full House on Thursday. Parliament's President and political group leaders formally confirmed the launch of the inquiry. MEPs also call for more protection for whistleblowers. (Read more: Parliament to launch in-depth inquiry into US surveillance programmes )

How safe is your personal data online? German Green MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht is currently steering a proposal to beef up existing EU data protection rules through Parliament, which will put people back in control of their own information. He revealed more details on what's coming up during a chat with our Facebook fans on 22 May and even gave participants practical tips on how to protect themselves against abuse of their personal data. (Read more: Facebook chat about data protection - "You (should) have the right to be informed")

Safe Harbour is a joint agreement between the US and the EU to ensure that Europeans' data are protected, even when they are being managed by American companies outside Europe. In the light of the NSA hacking scandal, the Parliament's inquiry concluded that the agreement should be suspended. On 15 January from 15.00 CET, MEPs will debate the future of the agreement with representatives from the European Commission and the Council. You can follow the debate live on our website. (Read more: Live: MEPs debate future data agreement with US in the wake of NSA scandal)

Sometimes, it is just so tempting. You fall madly in love, get angry, or drunk, and you want to tell the whole world - so you put it on Facebook. You put your address and telephone number on the internet when you buy something. Your doctor has your medical record in an online database. You share thoughts and data online without even thinking about it. But what if you want to remove them? (Read more: Protect your privacy: think twice before you give yourself away)

Parliament and the Council are set to embark on informal talks to come up with a compromise on a reform of data protection rules. Although MEPs already adopted their position in March 2014, member states have only agreed an approach now. We talked to German Greens/EFA MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht, who will be leading negotiations on behalf of Parliament, what the benefit of the new rules will be for consumers and companies and what issues still need to be resolved. (Read more: Albrecht on data protection reform: People will be better informed )

Parliament's consent to the EU-US trade deal "could be endangered" if blanket mass surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA) does not stop, MEPs said on Wednesday, in a resolution wrapping up their six-month inquiry into US mass surveillance schemes. The text also calls on the EU to suspend its bank data deal with the US and the “Safe Harbour agreement” on data privacy. The fight against terrorism can never justify secret and illegal mass surveillance, it adds. (Read more: US NSA: stop mass surveillance now or face consequences, MEPs say )

Twenty years counts as an eternity in technology. Current data protection rules date back nearly two decades so an update is urgently required. Not only has technology significantly evolved, but also the way we process and use data has changed. On 11 March Parliament discusses a legislative package that will bring about more control and security online, modernising standards and introducing new rules for companies and national authorities. MEPs will then vote on the plans on 12 March. (Read more: Interview: bringing data protection rules up to date)

It might be data protection day on 28 January, but there is precious little to celebrate. “Unfortunately, we are getting used to free services online, in exchange to which the silent deal is that the user is to be transparent," warns Peter Hustinx, the European data protection supervisor. "We need to be more critical." Mr Hustinx's job is to ensure that the European institutions and bodies respect the right to privacy and develop new policies. We asked him about the challenges to overcome. (Read more: Data protection: "Be careful who you trust, exercise your rights, ask questions")

Allegations of the US conducting a mass surveillance of Europeans continue to affect EU-US relations with some fearing it could jeopardise the ongoing free-trade agreement talks. Led by Claude Moraes, the EP's civil liberties committee launched an inquiry to find out the truth. Members from the civil liberties and foreign affairs committees met with US representatives in Washington at the end of October to discuss the allegations. We asked Mr Moraes about their findings. (Read more: Moraes: EP is looking not only into NSA allegations but also at EU's own backyard)

Concerns about privacy feature high on the EP agenda this week. On Monday evening, the civil liberties committee voted to strengthen EU data protection rules and to demand heavier fines for non-compliance. On Wednesday, the Parliament will have to take a stand on whether the EU-US agreement on the transfer of data handled by the SWIFT payment network should be suspended following allegations of internet surveillance by US authorities. (Read more: EP to vote on suspending SWIFT deal after committee vote on data protection)

The US should come clean over allegations that is has been spying on the EU and its people, the majority of political groups said in a debate on Prism on 3 July. However, they disagreed on whether the revelations should affect negotiations for a transatlantic free trade agreement. Some MEPs stressed the need for facts before judging and pointed out that surveillance was necessary to safeguard people's security. There is also an urgent need to beef up EU data protection rules, most agreed. (Read more: A question of trust: MEPs call for answers from US over spying scandal )

Europe cannot allow Americans to spy on its citizens, which is why setting up new data protection legislation is so urgent, according to the majority of the EP's civil liberties committee. The committee discussed the Prism internet surveillance scandal with justice commissioner Viviane Reding on Wednesday. The commissioner said data protection rules should apply to all companies operating in the EU, regardless of where their headquarters was based. (Read more: Prism: A wake-up call for data protection )

MEPs criticised a secret American programme to gather user data and questioned the implications for privacy, data protection and EU-US security collaboration. Parliament held a debate on the Prism programme on Tuesday morning after the Guardian and the Washington Post revealed its existence over the weekend. Most speakers roundly condemned the programme and the US's assurances that only non-Americans were targeted, but insisted on the value for Europe of security cooperation with the US. (Read more: Prism: MEPs hit out at US surveillance of people's personal data)

Cloud computing poses a larger threat to your privacy than you might think, according to an EP study. Europe marks today annual data protection day, an initiative to raise awareness of how people's personal information is collected and processed and how to best protect your private lives. The EP is currently looking at plans to update current European rules on data protection to bring them in line with the latest technological developments and prevent misuse of private data. (Read more: Data protection day: is your private life safe?)

The European Parliament is working to improve the protection of Europeans' personal data online. But there are already a lot of things you can do today to avoid identity theft or letting others get access to the things you want to remain private. (Read more: How to protect your privacy online)

The data protection package is an ambitious EU initiative that aims to ensure the right to privacy continues to be respected in our rapidly evolving world. It addresses a broad range of issues, including the right to have your information deleted, the need for explicit consent to use data and companies using an analysis of your data to predict your behaviour. Here is a brief overview. Click on the link for the background note on the right for even more details. (Read more: Data protection: the key issues)

REF. : 20130901TST18405
Interview with Jan Philipp Albrecht

Jan Philipp Albrecht, who will conduct negotiations on the data protection reform on behalf of the Parliament, tells us why he thinks the new law would be a huge boost to EU companies doing business online. (15 June 2015

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