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Review of the FIC Observatory Breakfast: the digitalisation of European societies

2014/11/04

On 4 November 2014, the FIC Observatory organised a breakfast debate in Brussels to discuss what is commonly called the digitalisation of European societies and how this phenomenon is addressed at the European level. Invited speakers were Mr Peter Hustinx, the European Data Protection Supervisor, Mrs Beatrice COVASSI, Deputy Head of Unit Data Value Chain at DG CONNECT, and Mrs Rosa Barcelo, Head of sector Digital Privacy in the Trust & Security Unit of DG CONNECT.

The digital revolution is not exclusively defined by an increasing technicality, but rather by the challenges posed by the use people have of digital services and devices. Indeed, new uses are flourishing and the number of users is exploding. This significant increase notably generates a huge amount of data. While people think their data do not interest anyone, the debate pointed out recent studies demonstrating how people’s data can actually be extracted and exploited without requiring illegal actions.

The Vice-President in charge of the Digital Single Market – member of the recently appointed Commission – declared that the condition to create a Europe-wide digital single market is to invest in data protection, privacy and research in these fields. In this regard, the Juncker Commission committed to deliver in the first 6 next months of its mandate on this issue by concluding the negotiations on the reform of EU’s data protection package. This new legislative package will strengthen the market system in Europe, move beyond the current fragmentation of national data regulations, and provide users with stronger rights but also stronger ways to express these digital rights.

The European commission has adopted in July 2014 a Communication on the data-driven economy presenting the digital transformation as a driver for growth in Europe. For the first time, the Commission recognizes the importance of the big data challenge. This Communication paves the way towards providing the right framework conditions for a single market for big data and cloud computing. The launch of a €2.5 billion Public-Private Partnership to strengthen the data sector in the beginning of October 2014 highlighted the involvement of the European Institutions to master big data.

The right to be forgotten – in the light of the Google Spain Case – was also at the hearth of this debate. It confirmed the need for Europeans to find the right balance between the assumption that available information can be re-used and the requirement that processing of personal information must always be legitimate and legal. The Google Spain Case showed that the European legislation must apply for a company established outside Europe but with activity in Europe. It also highlighted the differences in national cultures: in some countries such as France and Spain the right to be forgotten is a red flag, while in Northern Europe and the USA privacy is differently approached and publicly available data can be used.