PARIS -- Imagine the horror of seeing embarrassing photos of yourself making the rounds on the Internet, or, even worse, your bank details – out there for everyone to see. In an effort to better protect Europeans from just such a scenario, the European Commission is set present an arsenal of legislative measures on the subject during a meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 25.

"It is about reviewing the 1995 directive, which had one major fault: it opened the door to as many interpretations as there are member states in the European Union," explains a European official. "The objective is to harmonize these interpretations."

The office of Viviane Reding, the European Commission for Justice charged with the project, often cites Google Street View as an example. In setting up the service, the American giant collected a treasure trove of personal details. Some countries, including France, condemned it. Others didn't react at all.

Brussels has decided to completely review the 1995 directive, which will establish new rules to be applied across the continent. The Commission warns of "substantial consequences" – including fines of up to 1 million euros, or 5% of the turnover of the business concerned – for anyone found guilty of breaking the new privacy guidelines.

"Right to forget"

With its range of legislative measures, Brussels is targeting both businesses and individuals, who will be able to control how their personal details are used more easily. They will also have to give their explicit consent before their details can be used in other ways. For children under 13 years old, parents' permission will be required.

A "digital right-to-forget" will also be introduced. "The day you want to close your Facebook account, Facebook will be obliged to delete all your personal details," explains the European official. This right-to-forget will not apply to newspaper archives.

Individuals will also have the right to request a copy of their details if they want to pass them from one provider to another. Finally, individuals must be alerted within 24 hours if the security of their personal details is ever compromised. Brussels is making a clear attempt to prevent something like the ‘PlayStation' episode – where Sony took a week to let clients know that their bank card numbers had been stolen – from ever occurring again.

From a business point of view, companies will now have just one set of hoops to jump through: those of the country where their headquarters are based. Likewise, if details need to be exchanged between two subsidiaries of the same company, located in different countries, the authorisation of just one national body will suffice. The Commission estimates that the harmonization of the 27 different legislations currently in force will save the European economy 2.3 billion euros per year.

Read the original article in French

Photo – Bertrand Hauger