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Viviane Reding

Vice-President of the European Commission, EU Justice Commissioner

Privacy standards in the digital economy: enhancing trust and legal certainty in transatlantic relations

Aspen Institute: IDEA Project Conference

Brussels, 23 March 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen:

First of all, let me thank Ambassador Kennard and the Aspen Institute for inviting me to take part in this event. I am glad to have the opportunity to share with you my views on privacy in the digital economy and on how to enhance consumers' trust and legal certainty for businesses in transatlantic relations.

New information and communication technologies have radically changed the way we interact and communicate. Social networks are perhaps the most obvious, but not the only, example of this global phenomenon. Let's take cloud computing: storing information in the cloud holds much economic promise and many consumer benefits. Cloud computing is becoming one of the backbones of our digital future.

However, new technologies also raise challenges for policy makers. A cloud without robust data protection rules is not the sort of cloud we need. Its full potential can only be realised if it is seen as a trusted way of storing data. Web users should have control over their data. They have the right to know who is in charge of protecting their photos, agendas and emails that are kept in remote servers. They should know their rights to privacy.

Until recently there was a common belief that our approaches on privacy differ so much that it would be difficult to work together. This can no longer be argued. Just last week the White House took a decisive step closer to this side of the pond by announcing on March 16th its intention to work with Congress to produce "a privacy bill of rights". This development – which is much welcomed in Europe – shows that we have much in common. Convergence is springing up.

Synergies became possible. Removing protection gaps between our systems will be good for both U.S. and EU citizens and businesses. Strengthening trust in information technologies and improving legal certainty online will be essential to securing the Internet’s expansion.

In the EU, we have a strong and successful data protection law dating back to 1995. The law’s values and rights remain valid 16 years later. Nevertheless, what is needed now is to make the rules future-proof, taking into account the exponential growth of the Internet and the challenges of globalised data flows.

If we don't want to hinder technological development, we have to encourage trust in emerging technologies. Technology is designed to serve people. It must respect citizens' rights and freedoms. It must contribute to economic and social progress on both sides of the Atlantic, trade expansion and citizens’ well-being.

New privacy rules in Europe will need to be business-friendly. We want to cut those administrative obligations and requirements that are unnecessary and ineffective. New rules should be clearer, simpler and applied in uniform way. We should make businesses more responsible for protecting consumers' privacy online and ensure citizens' rights.

It is lucky that at the same time when we modernise our rules, the U.S. is introducing a legal basis for data protection. This is time to build on this momentum. If we succeed, our cooperation has a good chance to be the first step towards the development and promotion of international legal standards. It would set a framework for a high level of protection and ease international data flows, reduce legal uncertainty linked with data transfers.

As Vice-President of the European Commission and EU Justice Commissioner I am committed to laying the foundation for a robust transatlantic partnership in the field of justice, in particular privacy and data protection.

The reason for more convergence and cooperation is clear. We also face common threats. These threats – terrorism and serious crime – menace all of us, no matter where we are. For criminals and terrorists there are no frontiers, no oceans. That is why Europe is ready to negotiate a bilateral EU-U.S. agreement that would set standards for the protection of personal data when it is transferred across the Atlantic for the purposes of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.

Such an agreement would be the first important step in bridging the existing differences on the application of privacy rights. It would make it then easier to achieve a common approach on protecting personal information online in the businesses world.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me conclude by saying that the protection of personal data is a basic value for Europeans. Our Charter of Fundamental Rights states clearly that citizens have the right to the protection of their data. This right is particularly important in today’s world – a world in which rapid technological changes allow people to share personal information publicly and globally on an unprecedented scale.

Our cooperation should allow the continued expansion of the Internet as a common medium, bringing benefits to businesses and citizens. It needs to be robust and successful because it is built upon shared values such as the rule of law, democracy, freedom, solidarity, economic development and stability.

Let's give this win-win relationship a supplementary dimension. Let's show to the world that together we can ensure a high level of protection, facilitate international data flows and reduce legal uncertainties for citizens and companies on both sides of the Atlantic. Let's show to our citizens that working together will make Europe and the U.S. global standard setters and the world compass for values in action.

Thank you for your attention!

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