EU Commission presents new policies on data economy and privacy

However, senior MEPs and industry believe proposals do not go far enough.

Andrus Ansip | Photo credit: European Commission audiovisual

By Rajnish Singh

Rajnish Singh is Commissioning Editor at the Parliament Magazine

24 Jan 2017


Earlier this month, European Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip put forward new proposals to remove what he considers are the remaining obstacles to a digital single market.

He hopes his new initiatives will unleash the EU data economy, by getting rid of what the Commission describes as "unjustified restrictions" on the free movement of data across borders..

The Estonian official said, "Data should be able to flow freely between locations, across borders and within a single data space."


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He said admitted that "localisation rules or other technical and legal barriers" - otherwise known as  'geo-blocking' - were blocking the free flow of digital goods.

Ansip called for a "pan-European approach to make the most of data opportunities, building on strong EU rules to protect personal data and privacy."

According to the Commission, the EU data economy was estimated to be worth €272bn in 2015 and could employ 7.4 million people by 2020.

European Commissioner for industry, entrepreneurship and SMEs Elżbieta Bieńkowska, said, "To ensure that Europe is successful in the new era of the industrial economy, we need a solid and predictable frame work for data flow within the single market."

Ansip and Bieńkowska hope to address issues such as portability of information, to help companies easily switch data between cloud service providers.

According to Ansip, "Portability can lower costs, thereby lowering the entry barrier for innovative ideas."

However, he said that if the digital single market is to be successful, issues concerning data protection must also be addressed.

"We know that 92 per cent of Europeans insist on the importance of their emails and online messages staying confidential."

The Commission said their proposals will guarantee privacy for both content and metadata derived electronic communications, such as the time and location of a call.

"People will always have the right to say 'yes' or 'no' when it comes to use of their own data. This applies whether it concerns the content of their messages or metadata."

The same protections will also apply to data used via smartphones.

The Brussels executive has also proposed new rules concerning "cookies", so that internet users do not have to click on a banner every time they visit a website.

However, Vicky Ford, who chairs Parliament's internal market committee, said the Commission's proposals did not go far enough.

She urged the Commission to do more to lift restrictions imposed by some member states, which force data to be stored locally.

Ford had little confidence the Commission's proposals would effectively address this problem.

She said, "This is not a hypothetical issue but one that affects business large and small across the EU.

"We have been consistently calling for better enforcement, and the use of infringement proceedings where necessary, to address a broad range of failures in the single market for services."

She described the progress on addressing the failures in the creating a digital single market as "glacial".

UK trade body techUK backed Ford's views, saying the proposal put forward "fall a long way short".

The trade body also criticised the Commission for introducing 'one size fits all' regulations concerning data ownership and management.

They were concerned any new proposals will "stunt Europe's digital ambitions rather than help them to scale up, grow and flourish in Europe."

But EurolSPA, an association of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), welcomed the Commission's proposals and commended them on "the methodological approach taken […] in relation to data ownership."

However, they feared any further new proposals concerning privacy of data "could lead to confusion and stifle innovation."

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