Data watchdog calls for tougher EU laws

The current European Directive on data privacy is no longer fit for purpose, the UK Information Commissioner Richard Thomas has said.

His criticisms, made today at the Privacy Laws and Business annual conference in Cambridge, were meant to spark debate in the wake of the launch of new research into European privacy law sponsored by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

"European data protection law is increasingly seen as out of date, bureaucratic and excessively prescriptive," said Thomas. "It is showing its age and is failing to meet new challenges to privacy, such as the transfer of personal details across international borders and the huge growth in personal information online. It is high time the law is reviewed and updated for the modern world."

The European Commission (EC) implemented the current European Union (EU) Directive on the protection of personal data in 1995. But ICO is responsible for the UK legal equivalent Data Protection Act that was introduced three years later in 1998, as well as the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 and Environmental Information Regulations 2004.

From this position, the ICO said it was taking the lead in an international debate about the future direction of EU data protection law. It announced that independent not-for-profit research organisation, RAND Europe had won a competitive tender to carry out a comprehensive assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of EU law and to identify recommendations for reform.

Thomas said: "This research will help identify ways we can make the law more straightforward and more effective in practice, but less burdensome for organisations."

The ICO research is also intended to complement a similar study recently launched by the EC into data protection directive reform to meet new technological and social challenges. The ICO study will be published in spring 2009.

Miya Knights

A 25-year veteran enterprise technology expert, Miya Knights applies her deep understanding of technology gained through her journalism career to both her role as a consultant and as director at Retail Technology Magazine, which she helped shape over the past 17 years. Miya was educated at Oxford University, earning a master’s degree in English.

Her role as a journalist has seen her write for many of the leading technology publishers in the UK such as ITPro, TechWeekEurope, CIO UK, Computer Weekly, and also a number of national newspapers including The Times, Independent, and Financial Times.