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European Law Monitor newsPromoting Data Protection by Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs)

On 2 May 2007, the Commission adopted a Communication with the purpose of identifying the benefits of Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) and laying down the Commission's objectives in this field, to be achieved by a number of specific actions supporting the development of PETs and their use by data controllers and consumers.

The development of information and communication technologies is constantly offering new services which improve people's life. However, alongside these benefits, new risks also arise for the individual, such as identity theft, discriminatory profiling, continuous surveillance or deceit.

Vice-President Frattini, Commissioner responsible for Justice, Freedom and Security, highlighted that: "To ensure that breaches of the data protection rules and violations of individual's rights are not only something forbidden and subject to sanctions under the existing legal provisions, but also technically more difficult, the Commission puts forward a set of actions aiming at developing and promoting the use of Privacy Enhancing Technologies."

Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Information Society and Media added "On line services provide a lot of benefits and convenience to citizens and huge competitive advantages to European businesses. Yet for such services to enjoy large scale growth and so boost Europe's economy, people must have sufficient confidence that their personal privacy and legitimate business interests are being properly safeguarded".

The use PETs can help to design information and communication systems and services in a way that minimises the collection and use of personal data and facilitate compliance with data protection rules. The use of PETs should result in making breaches of certain data protection rules more difficult and /or helping to detect them, therefore having a positive impact on consumer trust, in particular in cyberspace, all without losing the functionality of the information system.

The Commission Communication reflects on the benefits of PETs, lays down the Commission's objective to promote these technologies and sets out clear actions to achieve them in the future by supporting the development of PETs and their use by data controllers and by consumers.

To pursue the objective of enhancing the level of privacy and data protection in the Community, the Commission intends to clearly identify the need and technological requirements of PETs and further promote the development of these technologies (in particular through RTD projects and large-scale pilot demonstrations) and their use by industry and public authorities, involving a vast array of actors, including its own services, national authorities, industry and consumers. The aim is to provide the foundation for user-empowering privacy protection services reconciling legal and technical differences across Europe through public-private partnerships.

To ensure respect for appropriate standards in the protection of personal data through PETs, standardization and coordination of national technical rules on security measures for data processing are envisaged.

Furthermore, the Commission will conduct actions to raise consumers' awareness and investigate the feasibility of an EU-wide system of privacy seals. The objective of such privacy seals would be to allow consumers to easily recognize a certain product as ensuring or enhancing the respect of the data protection rules, in particular by incorporating the appropriate PETs.