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Austrian MEP: "We need to protect European data even if it's located in the US"

As part of a panel discussion on building trust in the digital economy, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Josef Weidenholzer spoke about the need for the EU government to achieve trust in e-government initiatives by restoring people's belief in the goodwill of government in light of the Edward Snowden revelations, and the need for an EU cloud strategy to protect against spying.

In light of the revelations released by Edward Snowden, we have all discovered that we are under surveillance by government organisations.

We are currently pushing the necessity of a European cloud strategy, because there isn't one currently, and that's led to widespread abuse. We think that this is an important advance for business, because it allows business to be built on trust. We also called for the protection of whistleblowers, which is very important for these discussions.

Of course, Edward Snowden is present in every conversation about privacy, because he shone a light on these abuses.

I think the question of protecting data is of course a question of fundamental rights. The protection of private data is a fundamental right. But it's not only a question of citizen's rights, it's also a matter of the proper functioning and growth of the digital market in Europe and other parts of the world.

If we don't have that trust, this market will be very unstable. Trust and confidence are the foundations of growth. Reinforcing trust will, in the long run, help businesses provide jobs and innovation. Businesses must be able to have control over the data they own, and they must be able to trust in the rules and their enforcement.

Surveys show that less than one third of Europeans trust phone companies. Just over one fifth trust Internet companies, and most Europeans think that companies breaching data protection laws should be fined.

It's important that Europe has a new form of data protection legislation, because the current one goes back to 1995. It's outdated.

In 2012, the EU commission published legislation replacing the current directive. The main aspect is that there should be one directive, one EU-wide law. It should also apply to non-EU companies. That's very important in light of the revelations of Edward Snowden. We need to protect European data even if it's located in the US.

There's also a high penalty for breaches. It's 5 per cent of global annual turnover of the company. If a company is seriously breaching European law, there should be a really severe penalty for that.

There should also be the right to erasure of your data, and privacy by design – privacy by default. That's an important part of this package.

To read more about the new directive check out ITProPortal's coverage.

The Trust in the Digital World conference runs from 7-8 April, and ITProPortal will be covering the ins and outs of what's being discussed here in the Austrian Chamber of Commerce.