THE VICE PRESIDENT for the Digital Agenda in the European Commission, Neelie Kroes is hoping to clear up some of the many questions surrounding data protection in Europe, including what data is and how it can be protected.
The good news here, of course, is that individuals will get some protection afforded to their personal data, which should help allay fears about government workers just leaving it in a laptop on a train.
"Europe has become more united, the internal market more coherent and data flows more global," she said. "Now, we need to catch up and make the rules future-proof for the decades to come."
Already citizens are concerned that their data might be misused, and Kroes explained that some 70 per cent of people are worried that their information could be passed on to other companies and organisations without their permission.
These fears must go away, said Kroes, and could under a tighter regulatory regime where one rule governs all businesses that target Europeans, wherever they may be based.
"Under the reformed system in Europe all companies will be treated the same - no matter where they are based. As long as a company is targeting an EU citizen, it must abide by EU rules. There will no longer by any possibility for data controllers outside the EU to have a 'free ride' when operating in the EU," she added.
This of course will come at some cost to business, and Kroes is keen to ensure that it is not an onerous responsibility. "New law should not unduly punish the industry. While ensuring the rights of citizens, the reform needs to help encourage economic progress. It is thus my intention to help businesses to cope with high data protection standards," she continued.
Kroes has a number of plans in place to help businesses meet their requirements while avoiding meetings with insolvency consultants and law enforcement watchdogs, and she said that the first of these is a harmonisation of data protection rules.
Also on her digital agenda is the drive to increase trust in new technology amongst consumers, which she explained is likely to help firms "open up new market possibilities" through alternative means.
"I am committed to promote innovation and new services. But the current inconsistent application of EU law impacts the take up of on-line and audio-visual media services," she explained. "Citizens are limited in their use of new technologies because of a lack of trust in the digital environment and fears about possible misuse of their data."
The changes this involves might be costly, she added, but the cost of not acting is likely to be much higher. µ