Many people are unnerved by how much the Internet appears to know about them. This is generally because they signed up to digital services. The underlying bargain is that you get these services for free in return for advertisers being able to target you more precisely. And in the vast majority of cases, it is possible to opt out.
The European Data Protection Directive
was introduced in 1995 when search engines were just starting out. But it continues to provide a solid protection of your personal data because the underlying principles have not been superseded. In addition, subsequent legislation has made sure your fundamental rights are guaranteed as technology evolves.
So why do people feel such a pressing need for new rules? There is always room for improvement, but we need to be very careful about unintended consequences. For example, reducing the differences between national interpretations of existing rules will make life easier for both people and businesses. However, those rules have been adapted to work alongside other legislation that protects you, such as the unfair commercial practices directive
. Changes could introduce overlaps or conflicts and end up reducing, not increasing protection. In the end, the only winners could be the lawyers…
As we move more of our lives online, we will be sharing our personal data with an ever-wider range of organisations and in ways that haven’t been invented yet. If the new rules are going to stand the test of time, they must continue to be based on principles and we must be able to apply them whatever technology is involved.
And just as in our offline lives, common sense
is often more effective than rules in protecting our privacy.