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IP/08/592

Brussels,17 April 2008

Eurobarometer survey reveals that EU citizens are not yet fully aware of their rights on data protection

A recent Eurobarometer survey shows that 64% of EU citizens are concerned about data protection issues and feel that awareness and information on these topics are not yet satisfactory. Data controllers in private companies generally agree that the requirements of the data protection law are necessary in order to guarantee a high level of protection for consumers and the fundamental rights of citizens. However, half of them believe that legislation cannot cope with the increasing amount of personal information being exchanged.

Vice-President Jacques Barrot commented the results of the survey, pointing out that "It is our intention to fully analyse and understand the feedback we have been given by Europe’s citizens in this survey and we will ensure these comments inform the work we are doing in this area this year. I am convinced that this survey will also be a salutary lesson for all stakeholders involved in handling personal data and maintaining data protection".

Since 1991, the European Commission has been monitoring the perceptions, attitudes and views of the EU’s citizens on data protection issues. Over the last two decades, data protection in the EU has faced new challenges and has undergone important changes. In order to face these changes, as of 1995, the European Commission has carried out legislation[1] aiming at ensuring high level of data protection for all EU citizens.

Against this background, the European Commission commissioned two Eurobarometer surveys, investigating perceptions on data protection respectively among EU citizens and data controllers in private companies.

The first significant information provided by the survey is that, despite drastic technological changes occurring in the last two decades, the level of concern about data protection hasn’t practically changed (64%).

Respondents tend to see low levels of data protection in their own country: not even half of respondents (48%) think that their data is properly protected in their own country. A majority fears that national legislation cannot cope with the growing number of people leaving personal data on the Internet (54%).

People who are responsible for processing data in private companies ("data controllers"), generally made a positive evaluation of the requirements of the data protection laws: 91% rather agreed that the requirements of the data protection law are necessary in order to guarantee a high level of protection for consumers and the fundamental rights of citizens. However, half of them believe that legislation cannot cope with the increasing amount of personal information being exchanged and only 5% of respondents think that the existing legislation concerning data protection was very well suited.

Lack of information is identified as a major problem: a vast majority feels that EU citizens have low levels of awareness about data protection (77%) and even though EU citizens are quite well informed about some of the existing data protection regulations, there are still some considerable information gaps. In particular, the national data protection authorities were relatively unknown to most of the EU’s citizens: only 28% of respondents said they had heard about the existence of such institutions in their country.
Citizens and data controllers agree with the need to share data to enhance protection against illegal activity. A majority of respondents agreed that it should be possible to monitor passenger flight details (82%), telephone calls (72%) and Internet and credit card usage (75% and 69%, respectively) when this served to combat terrorism. However, most respondents said this should be within clearly-defined limits: around a third of respondents stressed that only suspects should be monitored (27%-35%) and approximately one in five (14%-21%) wanted even stricter safeguards.

The full report is available at the following web address:

http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/flash_arch_en.htm


[1] Directive 95/46/EC


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