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EU Data Czar Touts Privacy in ‘Big Data’ Age

(CN) - The European Union's data-protection czar on Thursday pushed companies that track customer data to find ways to do so transparently while "better protecting the dignity and fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals."

In an opinion published Thursday titled "Meeting the Challenges of Big Data," European Data Protection Supervisor Giovanni Buttarelli said it was time to begin a new debate between industry, IT experts, legislators, regulators and the public about how "the social benefits that big data brings can be harnessed while protecting individuals in a more effective and innovative way."

"Big data implies bigger data protection, and more user control is key for its responsible application in the future," Buttarelli said. "Privacy laws have been developed to protect our fundamental rights and values. The question industry and public entities must ask themselves is not whether to apply these laws to big data processes, rather how to apply them more effectively."

Buttarelli's treatise notes that while tracking of people's behavior has become an essential revenue stream for companies, doing so also calls for "a critical assessment and the search for workable alternatives."

The czar called out companies to be accountable and transparent about their tracking, and to have "a new ethical approach" to handling the personal data they collect.

"Companies and other organisations that invest in finding innovative ways to use personal data should use the same innovative mindset when implementing data protection law," Buttarelli said in a statement.

The European Data Protection Supervisor is an independent EU institution tasked with protecting the personal rights of citizens in the data age, and advising other government institutions in matters concerning the processing of personal data.

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