Data protection rules must apply to all

Written by Marie-Christine Vergiat on 20 March 2017 in Opinion

The digital revolution presents many opportunities, but embracing it must not come at the expense of fundamental rights, says Marie-Christine Vergiat.

Marie-Christine Vergiat | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

Digital has taken over our daily lives. Artificial intelligence is inescapable. We are in the midst of a new revolution, or at the very least a new stage in the industrial revolution. This presents great opportunities, both in terms of the economy - particularly job creation - and improving quality of life. As such, more and more data is collected, saved, processed and re-used, for better or for worse.

Often, people are not aware of what information is collected, or how much of it is collected; data is being analysed more and more and without any human intervention. The huge amount of data that is stored has become a trading good in its own right - regardless of why the data was collected in the first place - and a source of considerable profit.

Parliament's civil rights, justice and home affairs committee decided to tackle the issue, something the GUE/NGL group strongly supports, given the considerable risks to fundamental rights presented by the exponential growth of big data and uncontrolled retention and exploitation of this information.


Developing a digital market cannot come at the expense of citizens' rights. In this sense, I agree with the European data protection supervisor that it is a shame the EU does not have a holistic approach in this area. Data protection seems to be subject to heterogeneous and even contradictory considerations, both by public authorities and market stakeholders.

The EU has just adopted new data protection legislation. This must be applied everywhere - on all territories and in all sectors - by everyone and for everyone. I am particularly worried by what is happening in my own country, France, where a special folder is being set up to collect the biometric data of some 60 million French citizens. 

Commenting on the matter, the Commission said that the new EU data protection rules would not be applicable until May 2018. This is worrying. It is therefore important that Parliament's civil liberties committee pointed out that big data concerns both the public and private sectors, and that the rules apply to all - including older systems - without, however, jeopardising freedom of expression.

These days, everything seems to have become 'smart' - cities, borders, objects. This is questionable, given the huge consequences a technical error could have on someone's life if the necessary precautions are not taken in terms of privacy rights, data protection, freedom of expression and non-discrimination.

For some, digital represents a sort of magical Eldorado. However, this is far from the case and many of its implications are still unknown. We must be cautious. We cannot store and analyse data without considering all the possible consequences, particularly the risk of profiling. We should avoid proving George Orwell right; now is the time to act.


About the author

Marie-Christine Vergiat (FR) is Parliament's GUE/NGL group shadow rapporteur on the fundamental rights implications of big data

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