April 23, 2024

E.U. Panel to Propose Tighter Data Protection

BERLIN — The European Commission’s advisory panel on data protection plans this week to urge governments in the European Union to treat the geographic location of cellphone users as personal data, deserving of the highest level of privacy protection.

The panel, which consists of 27 national regulators, plans to adopt the opinion on Friday, according a European Union official who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak for the panel.

The panel, whose opinions are not binding, is adopting the statement in a so-called written procedure without holding a formal meeting. The current chairman of the group is the Dutch data protection chief, Jacob Kohnstamm.

The statement is unlikely to have an immediate influence on the collection of cellphone location data by smartphone makers like Apple, which is being investigated by several European countries for its practices.

Technology companies in the past have ignored the panel’s recommendations, including those regarding the length of time that search engines can retain data about users’ computers.

The debate surrounding the geographic location of cellphone users intensified in April when researchers in the United States disclosed that Apple, the maker of the iPhone, appeared to be collecting information on its phones. Apple, in a statement, attributed the data collection to a software glitch and said it did not track users’ locations.

Google, the maker of the Android smartphone operating system, said that it collects geographic data for a limited time, but renders it anonymous before sending it to its servers for processing. Android users also must give consent before Google can track their locations.

In the wake of the disclosure by Apple, five European Union countries — Germany, France, Britain, Ireland and Italy — said they would investigate whether Apple had broken national laws.

The geographic location of cellphone users is becoming a lucrative bit of information as computing goes mobile and wireless advertisers increasingly provide cellphone users with geographically relevant ads for restaurants and other attractions.

Europe’s existing body of data protection law was written in the early days of the mobile era and was last revised in 1995.

The European justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, is working to modernize data protection laws to address the privacy challenges raised by the mobile Internet. She is also focusing on the handling of data by social networks like Facebook, the treatment of personal data by offshore cloud computing centers and the geographic data of mobile phone users.

In a May 3 speech in Brussels, Ms. Reding criticized Apple for collecting location data on iPhone users. Ms. Reding said she would push for more restrictive laws to ensure privacy was maintained in the Internet age.

She also criticized Sony for being slow to inform 77 million consumers that their personal data had been obtained by hackers.

“I am now planning to expand data protection legislation to other areas,” Ms. Reding said in the speech.

“Trust has to be reinstated now. It is essential that clients know what happens to their data. Those in charge have to take the relevant technical and organizational measures to guarantee protection against data loss or an unjustified access.” The European Parliament and Council of Ministers would take up the proposed revisions starting in 2012.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=b8c1f1e855fffdb9e6a122288898b5f1

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