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EU pushes for more privacy for Internet users

Justice Ministers from all of the EU-countries have agreed on the new data protection act, including the so-called "right to be forgotten." Several large companies strongly oppose the reform, European officials said.

The ministers hammered out the new regulations, which would give more protection to Internet users in the whole of the European Union, during their meet in Luxemburg on Monday.

Once the reform is finalized, the social networks such as Facebook would have to ask their users for explicit permission to process their data. In addition, the users would have the option to transfer their data when switching to another social network.

The new rules would also allow citizens easier access to institutions in charge of protecting their privacy across Europe.

In the future, the companies working with large amount of private data would not be able to hide in "the data protection-oases," German justice minister Heiko Maas said at the beginning of the Monday talks.

Disappearing from the Net

One of the big points for the EU ministers is also the so-called "right to be forgotten," which allows the EU citizens to ask for their private data to be deleted. The reform should allow for online information, including pictures, to be removed, in case they violate privacy or data protection laws.

The expected changes follow the last year's

decision by the EU's top court

, which required that search engines like Google remove links to personal information that are "inadequate, irrelevant... or excessive."

Thousands of EU citizens have already submitted requests for information to be deleted from public search engines.

Complaints from tech giants

If the companies would fail to comply with the upcoming regulation, they would be forced to pay fines reaching two percent of their global revenue, according to the EU ministers. European Parliament has requested even larger fines.

EU officials claim that the long debate on the issue has seen fierce lobbying from large data processing companies, who claim that reform could complicate the planned creation of a single market for digital services.

The companies, including Amazon.com Inc and German software giant SAP SE, also claim that the proposal would kill Europe's cloud computing industry.

Update after two decades

The reform would replace the guidelines agreed upon in 1995, at the time when less than one percent of Europeans had Internet access. The arrival of the Internet age has forced the individual members to

regulate data protection on their own

, leading to varying degrees of protection across the EU.

The EU justice ministers are still required to agree on a compromise with the European Parliament, where some MP's call for even stricter regulations on privacy. At the earliest, the reform is expected to be finalized by the end of this year.

It would then enter a transitional period and come into power in 2018.

dj/jil (dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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