The Committee of the Regions' rapporteur for the draft opinion on trans-European telecommunication networks, Alin Nica, shares his views on personal data protection in the framework of the programme entitled A Digital Agenda for Europe. The draft opinion is due to be adopted at the Committee of the Regions' next plenary session in May 2012.
The EU's Digital Agenda sets out seven key objectives to be met by 2020. These include the development of a Digital Single Market, very fast Internet connections and building trust in the security of digital services. Some of the recommendations in the Committee of the Regions' draft opinion also concern the protection of the users' privacy in order to ensure a maximum level of confidentiality and personal data protection. We discussed this issue with the rapporteur, Alin Nica.
In the current situation presented by the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and the surrounding debate, what importance should be given to the protection of privacy and personal data?
When it comes to developing trans-European telecommunication networks, protecting privacy and personal data is a crucial and indispensable aspect of a democratic society. The CoR has always advocated that an optimum level of protection should be guaranteed in this area. As a result, while I was drawing up the report on trans-European telecommunication networks, I made an effort to show how important it is to protect privacy and personal data without, however, restricting the free circulation of information.
In your opinion, what sort of data can be qualified as personal?
It could be any sort of data that refers directly or indirectly to natural persons: financial information or documents, (payslips, credit card numbers) or medical information (medical files), identity papers (personal identification codes, I.D. card or passport numbers), personal information (family and first names, addresses, telephone numbers, etc.) and personal profiles registered on the Internet.
What conditions should the Committee of the Regions call for in order to protect privacy and avoid a replay of the scenario surrounding the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement?
It is vital to build on a strategy aimed at preventing unauthorised personal data processing, whatever the nature of that data. To achieve this, it is vital to develop an infrastructure for information and related services and set security requirements at each level, in order to guarantee optimum standards for confidentiality and personal data protection. The CoR has always argued that in order to achieve these goals, comprehensive training is required for staff responsible for security procedures or more generally or indirectly involved in innovation and modernisation processes connected with confidentiality and security issues.
During the EDUC commission meeting, you stated that the draft opinion on trans-European telecommunication networks should focus on users. You also mentioned that the public sector should be involved in the project aimed at extending Internet broadband access. In view of these comments, how can local authorities help protect people's privacy?
Local and regional authorities are key players in many policy areas and they are responsible for implementing policies and strategies set at the central level. Local and regional authorities are therefore responsible for the functioning of services in sectors such as health, education, and public procurement, safety and social services, not to mention the implementation of applications that store citizens' electronic identification details. Since local and regional authorities have access to databases containing personal information, they can encourage the application of a non-discriminatory policy and monitor the protection of privacy, in compliance with safety and security rules.
What can local and regional authorities do to build the public's trust in online services such as "online banking" or "e-health"? (according to a 2011 Eurobarometer study, less than a third of users trust landline and mobile phone and Internet providers, and just over a fifth trust Internet businesses such as search engines, social networks and e-messaging services).
Since local and regional authorities are the closest authorities to citizens, they play an essential role when it comes to promoting dialogue with the general public and responding to its concerns. They can organise information and communication campaigns on using online services, contribute to raising awareness about the advantages of using online payment systems, for instance, and provide the general public with what they need in order to find out about and understand this type of service.
The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is a multilateral international agreement designed to fight trade in counterfeit products, whether traditional or digital (illegal downloading). Its ratification has been blocked in several national parliaments in Europe as a consequence of public protests in several countries, triggered by concerns about its impact on fundamental freedoms. In order to remove any doubt that ACTA respects fundamental rights, the European Commission plans to refer the matter to the European Court of Justice before ratifying the agreement.