Privacy watchdog urges stronger data protection in EU law review

Also calls for 'right to be forgotten' data-deletion right for citizens

Organisations that have lost personal data should be forced to disclose the data security breach, the European Union's privacy watchdog has said. Planned changes to EU privacy law do not go far enough, said the official.

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) Peter Hustinx has published an opinion urging the European Commission to extend the obligation to tell people when their data security has been compromised beyond current limits and has backed calls for a "right to be forgotten".

The Commission said in November that it would consider adopting a more wide-ranging security breach policy as part of a review of the Data Protection Directive.

A package of telecoms reform in 2009 contained the provision that telecommunications companies should inform subscribers if data is lost or stolen. The Commission is considering extending that requirement as part of its review.

Hustinx has urged the Commission to adopt the extension, saying that users of services have a right to know when data security has been compromised.

"Other data controllers are not covered by the [current] obligation. The reasons that justify the obligation fully apply to data controllers other than providers of electronic communication services," said the opinion (36-page/247KB PDF).

"The EDPS supports the introduction of a provision on personal data breach notification in the general instrument, which extends the obligation ... for certain providers to all data controllers," it said.

The EDPS analysis of the Commission's plans agreed with the problems the Commission had identified with the current law and backed its suggestions for improvements. But the EDPS "asks for more ambitious solutions to make the system more effective and give citizens better control over their personal data", according to a statement from his office.

"In an information society where huge amounts of personal information are constantly being processed, citizens need and expect to stay in control of their personal data," said Hustinx. "If we want to strengthen citizens' rights over their personal data, we need to ensure that individuals remain in control and that data controllers pro-actively include data protection in their business processes."

Hustinx said that the ongoing review of the Data Protection Directive should strengthen the rights of the subjects of data to know and control what information is held about them.

He said that in addition to the right to be informed of data security breaches they should have a 'right to be forgotten', meaning that they should be able to demand the deletion of information held about them by online service providers.

That proposal has proved controversial, since deleting information that is in the public domain is being seen by some as allowing the alteration of historical record.

The EDPS also backs a strengthening of rules to which organisations must adhere in order to stay within the revised Data Protection Directive.

"The new framework must contain incentives for data controllers in the public or private sector to pro-actively include new tools in their business processes to ensure compliance with data protection," said the EDPS statement. "The EDPS proposes the introduction of general provisions on accountability and 'privacy by design'."

Hustinx also said that national data protection authorities should be given greater powers as a result of the review, and that there should be more consistency between the way that the directive is implemented in the EU's 27 member states.

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