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Call for universal data-protection law

Data-protection principles should have global backing


Data-protection commissioners from 40 countries have called on the United Nations to prepare a binding legal instrument to enhance data protection.

At a conference in Montreux on Friday, the commissioners aimed to strengthen the universal nature of data-protection principles.

The International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners also adopted two resolutions, one on the use of biometric data in travel and identity documents and a second on the use of personal data for political communication.

The Swiss data-protection commissioner, Hanspeter Thür, told journalists that data protection constituted a major challenge as a result of globalisation and the development of information technologies.

In their final declaration, the delegates committed themselves to collaborating with governments and international organisations with a view to developing a universal convention on data protection.

The declaration appealed in particular for the UN to prepare a legal and binding instrument to enhance data protection. This could be a text adopted by the UN in the same way as human-rights provisions, Thür explained.

Urgent issue

The commissioners agreed that the current geopolitical context – in particular the fight against terrorism, the internet, biometrics, the development of invasive technologies and the emergence of biobanks - made it all the more urgent to address the issue of privacy.

The conference called on the heads of government who will meet in Tunisia in November for the World Summit on the Information Society to include the issue of data protection in their discussions.

Germany presented a resolution on the use of biometric data in travel and identity documents. The commissioners accepted the resolution, noting that the widespread use of such data would have a considerable impact on society and should therefore be subject to an open worldwide debate.

The commissioners also called for effective safeguards to be built into the use of biometric data so as to limit the risks inherent in its application.

Finally, the commissioners adopted a resolution presented by Italy on the use of personal data for political communication purposes.

The second resolution states that any processing of personal data must respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of data subjects.

Data processing must comply with data protection principles, in particular lawful and fair collection, proportionality, finality, accuracy and transparency, the commissioners stressed.

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In brief

The International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners in Montreux was organised by the Swiss data-protection commissioner Hanspeter Thür.

Delegates discussed the following themes:

Is the establishment of a global data-protection law realistic in the context of different legal, economic and political systems worldwide?

Are the principles of data protection a sufficient response to the internet?

What impact does the fight against terrorism have on data protection?

The commissioners also adopted a resolution on the use of biometric data in passports, identity cards and travel documents.

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