Categorized | Civil Liberties

Protecting Privacy in the digital age

Protecting Privacy in the digital age

This column has banged on at some length in recent times about the dangers to civil liberty and privacy caused by unlimited surveillance, and now the EU is weighing in with the same concerns. “Europeans must have the right to control how their personal information is used” said Viviane Reding, the EU’s Commissioner for Information Society and Media, announcing this week several areas in which the Commission is ready to act to maintain this right as technology trends make it easier to use, and misuse, personal information.

The Commissioner said that European privacy rules are crystal clear: a person’s information can only be used with their prior consent. Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID), the smart chips integrated in products such as electronic bus passes to send radio signals, would only realise their economic potential if they are used by the consumer and not on the consumer. “No European should carry a chip in one of their possessions without being informed precisely what they are used for, with the choice to remove or switch it off at any time.” The Commissioner also called on social networking companies to reinforce privacy protection online, particularly the profiles of minors, which must be private by default and unavailable to internet search engines. Mrs Reding asks “do we not cross the border of the acceptable when, for example, the pictures of the Winnenden school shooting victims in Germany are used by commercial publications just to increase sales?” The European Commission has already called on social networking sites to deal with minors’ profiles carefully, by means of self-regulation. The Commissioner warned that the EU would take action where Member States fail to implement EU rules ensuring privacy and the need for a person’s consent before processing his or her personal data.

Regarding behavioural advertisement systems that monitor internet users’ web browsing to better target them with advertisements, “we cannot…have all our exchanges monitored, surveyed and stored in exchange for a promise of ‘more relevant’ advertising”. Earlier this week the European Commission launched proceedings against the UK concerning this online advertising technology developed by UK based Phorm, tested by BT and cleared by the authorities. The current UK law allows internet traffic to be intercepted if the company doing the intercepting believes that it has consent. “We have been following the Phorm case for some time and have concluded that there are problems in the way the UK has implemented parts of EU rules on the confidentiality of communications”. The Home Office said that it would respond to these proceedings in due course.

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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