European Commission backs Merkel's call for tough data protection laws

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The European Commission has been quick to back a call from Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, for much tougher data protection laws.

The German chancellor wants Internet companies to be a lot more transparent when it comes to revealing who they make users personal information available to.

EU justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, encouraged other European states to follow Merkel's lead in pushing for stricter privacy rules: A major concern being, at present, the data protection rules only have to comply with those of the country the firm has registered in.

She said: "Such common European rules are indeed the best way to ensure a solid protection of the personal data of EU citizens, also with regard to companies from third countries operating in the EU.

"Europe must stand united on this matter, which is at the heart of European values, which concerns the fundamental rights of EU citizens and which is in addition of great importance for the European single market."

Since Edward Snowden made a number of allegations about online snooping, especially by the US National Security Agency, there has been a heightened interest in online privacy lately. In Germany for example, Merkel has already been criticised for failing to take action against the alleged spying conducted by US and UK intelligence services.

Britain and Ireland have far more lenient data protection regimes in contrast to Germany, and this is something Merkel believes needs to be changed urgently.

She said: "Internet companies which are operating in Europe, such as Facebook and Google, must give … European countries the information about whom they have given data to."

However, UK justice minister Lord McNally has suggested the UK is unlikely to take action.

He said: "The government wants to see EU data protection legislation that protects the civil liberties of individuals while allowing for economic growth and innovation. These should be achieved in tandem, not at the expense of one or the other.

"We do not believe the current European Union proposals strike the right balance. We are negotiating for EU legislation that contains less prescription and cost burdens while providing greater flexibility for member states to tailor legislation according to national tradition and practice."

Google has faced a number of questions in regards to online privacy and earlier this month was asked by the UK's Information Commissioners Office (ICO) to amend its privacy policy by September 20 following a move it took last year to amalgamate 70 separate privacy policies for digital marketing purposes: The UK's privacy watchdog ruling the current policy did not adhere to the UK Data Protection Act.

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