Protecting personal data has long been an important policy goal in the
european union, so much so that it is enshrined in the eu charter of
In an increasingly digital world, in which large amounts of information is generated, collected and processed, data has gained signifcance beyond what the framers of that charter could have imagined.2 in many ways data has become the life-blood of our society as well as an increasingly valuable asset. Just how valuable can be seen, among other things, by the success of business models based on users trading their personal data, whether consciously or not, for free services.
Such models fnanced much of the development of the modern world
wide web, and are responsible for many services now deemed essential
to our lives. but there is a downside. some companies misuse individuals’ personal data,3 selling it on to third parties without their knowledge and for purposes over which they have no say. some companies, governments and other institutions have struggled to safeguard personal data, as the almost daily revelations of hacks and data breaches attest. this exposes individuals to both nuisance risks, like unwanted advertising, and existential ones, like identity theft.
The european union, keen to protect its citizens, has long sought to
regulate the use of personal data. yet the task is not as straightforward as it may seem. to function, democracies must balance the fundamental right of safeguarding personal data with other fundamental rights.
Whether in support of free speech, the public’s right to know, legitimate security concerns, or fostering economic growth, there are many reasons why the right to data protection needs to be balanced with other equally weighty concerns.
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