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Data protection: New technologies to protect privacy

From our TV and film streaming accounts to our banking details, from online shops to our digital magazine subscriptions, it is now extremely common for people to constantly give away their private data to receive a steady stream of goods and services. And it doesn’t just stop at consumerism. With the increasing digitisation of government and corporate services, many of our most intimate and private personal details have found their way into the online realm. Of course, social media and other tech giants are also likely to hold vast amounts of information on our lives, beliefs, professions, personal histories and spending habits. In today’s ever-growing and expanding digital economy, personal data has become as valuable a commodity as cold hard cash.

Where Europe is truly leading the world

So why do people so easily give away their personal data? For one thing, convenience. Enter your bank details and that shiny new thing you’ve been coveting will arrive by tomorrow evening, without having to even leave the house, even before COVID-19 confined so many of us. All of your medical records in one easily accessible online space? Excellent, no need to chase up doctors or seek out a specific hospital document from a mountain of possibly unorganised papers. And in 2020, where billions of us have retreated further into the online realm to find some escapism from the pandemic reaping its way across the physical world, even more individuals have parted with their personal data as a result who may not otherwise have done so. Due to the data boom over the last two and a half decades and with such staggering amounts of personal individual data now sloshing its way around the world every day, from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and with the very real possibility of such data falling into the wrong hands or being used in ways that are not communicated to the individuals concerned, Europe takes data protection extremely seriously. In fact, it has become a world leader in the efforts to protect individuals’ personal data. Its shining achievement amongst a number of recent online privacy-related legislative acts is without a doubt the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), passed in 2016 and fully applicable since May 2018. Years in the making and the source of a lot of, at times heated, political debate across Europe, it aimed to modernise the EU’s data protection laws that had last been updated in the 1990s, at the very dawn of the Digital Age, and thus were thoroughly outdated and in need of an overhaul by the beginning of the 2010s. Since the GDPR’s passing into law, all companies across the EU have to follow the exact same rulebook when it comes to the processing and storing of personal data, resulting in strong protections for individuals, who have also been empowered by gaining more control over their data. Businesses, whether based in Lisbon, Vilnius or Nicosia, all have a level playing field to compete with each other. EU-funded research has also had a key role to play in the EU’s data protection regime, where projects have been hard at work supporting EU and national efforts to communicate widely on the changes and help support individuals and businesses adapt to the GDPR. The seven projects starring in this issue’s special feature have been at the forefront of data protection research, with a key focus of more than one of them being the development of accessible tools that will help businesses and organisations ensure they not only fully understand their obligations but are complying with the rules of the GDPR. Others have looked at innovative methods to make sure fast-evolving new digital technologies, such as the cloud, are ‘GDPR-compatible’. Overall, the results highlighted in this issue will no doubt contribute towards Europe’s continued importance and leadership in the ongoing global debate on data protection. We look forward to receiving your feedback. You can send questions or suggestions to

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