In the last few years there has been a dramatic change in the opportunities organizations have to generate value from the data they collect about customers or service users. Customers and users are rapidly becoming collections of “data points” and organizations can learn an awful lot from the analysis of this huge accumulation of data points, also known as “Big Data.”
Organizations are perhaps thrilled, dreaming about new potential applications of digital data but also a bit concerned about hidden risks and unintended consequences. Take, for example, the human rights protections placed on personal data by the EU. Regulators are watching closely, intending to preserve the eight basic privacy principles without compromising the free flow of information.
Some may ask whether it’s even possible to balance the two.
The recently revealed plans by President Barack Obama to reform the way in which the U.S. intelligence services gather and use data throughout the world have had a lukewarm reception by European politicians. The rhetoric by members of the European Parliament in particular suggests that Obama’s proposed reforms stopped short of what would have been comforting enough for them. Such reforms are a work in progress that will extend over months and years, but Obama’s stance is bound to have a very direct effect on existing and forthcoming EU data protection requirements.
It’s no secret that the EU’s proposed General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) hangs in the balance. Some have even declared it dead (see here), though, to paraphrase Mark Twain, those reports are somewhat exaggerated. Nevertheless, 2014 will prove a pivotal year for privacy in the European Union: Either we’ll see some variant of the proposed regulation adopted in one form or another, or we’ll be heading back to the drawing board.
As it has been noted on these pages one of the tangible results of the Snowden revelations has been the (re)introduction of a provision in the EU’s proposed General Data Protection Regulation aiming to limit and control the transfer of personal data to authorities in third countries, the main concern motivating this initiative clearly being concerns regarding the transfer of personal data to U.S. intelligence and law enforcement authorities.
Originally, the European Commission had intended for such a provision to be included in Article 42 of the data protection reform proposal tabled in January 2012, but—if one chooses to believe the many press reports one the matter—due to intense lobbying pressure from the U.S. government, the provision was removed. That is, of course, not the full picture.