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German MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht.
German MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht.
Image: Wikipedia

Could the EU set the standard for digital rights worldwide?

After passing new legislation concerning data retention and net neutrality, the next five years will see the EU become a major influence in how digital laws and regulations are shaped.
Apr 26th 2014, 8:45 AM 4,434 11

DIGITAL RIGHTS HAS been at a crossroads for a while now. Issues on data retention, privacy, net neutrality and security have been major issues over the last few years, and it’s only now that some organisations are beginning to react to it.

The US’ Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposals of net neutrality has been met with criticism after it proposed internet service providers could give preferential treatment to traffic from certain sites, while Brazil recently passed legislation which will allow open access to the web and ensures protection of internet privacy.

Yet it’s the European Union which has been the most proactive in tackling this problem. As well as recently passing legislation which treats all internet traffic equally across each member state, it also passed the General Data Protection Regulation reform, which will change how consumer data is stored, as well as how data breaches are reported.

It’s the first step towards solving what has become a complex and ever-changing topic, and while it’s by no means perfect, it’s something that German MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht, who has been at the forefront of issues involving data protection and digital economy in Europe, believes is crucial.

While he feels the EU is late in passing such regulation, he says it can have a major influence on the international community through leading by example.

I really think the next five years will be decisive. The question [is] who will play the leading role in setting the standard for the digital market, that will be the upcoming five years, and I think we have a good chance, as Europeans, to set a standard.

The rate of change in both the web and in digital technology has increased significantly with smart objects like fitness trackers and wearable technology beginning to emerge. 

Keeping up with an industry that is heading in multiple directions is a tough task, and putting forward regulation that addresses what’s happening now as well as what’s coming up in the future is even more so.

The General Data Protection Regulation alone hasn’t been without its critics and it’s likely that future legislation will see a similar reception, but Albrecht doesn’t feel this is a bad thing. Instead, he says it’s something that we should embrace since we are all learning.

We need to realise it’s not possible to find the perfect rule for the future and for everything, but it’s possible to find better rules for the current situation.Because technology is evolving so quickly, it’s not possible to already oversee everything that’s upcoming, but it’s possible to adapt to the new realities and to find principles and standards which might be able to adapt to new technologies.

For data protection and net neutrality in the EU, the next two years will be important as these new regulations are agreed upon and enforced.

For Albrecht, the focus should be on establishing common European rules – which clearly state what rights and responsibilities each person and organisation has – as well as cooperation and better exchange and debates at a European level.

If the EU manages to reach this stage, Albrecht says it will put Europe “quite a way ahead and [we] have a win win situation because we have legal certainty and trust.”

Jan Philipp Albrecht gave at a talk on EU Data Protection Reform at the Institute of International and European Affairs organised by the Green Party on Thursday. An audio recording of the talk can be listened to here.

Read: EP votes in favour of net neutrality laws and to end roaming charges >

Read: Ireland a contender for 2020 European Capital of Culture >

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Quinton O'Reilly

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