The emergence of personal data protection as a fundamental right of the European Union

Scriptie/masterproef: Doctoral Thesis


The protection of personal data is currently recognised as a fundamental right of the European Union (EU). Originally inscribed in 2000 in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, which allegedly aimed at rendering more visible already existing rights, the right to the protection of personal data was nevertheless absent as such from all the legal sources mentioned by the Charter. How did this right emerge in EU law? And how did it acquire the legal status of fundamental right of the EU?
The thesis examines these questions through the lens of law as text, granting particular attention to changes triggered in law by language, simultaneously embracing both the multilingualism of EU law, and the notion of words' untranslatability. It retraces the earliest steps of what eventually came to be known as European 'data protection' legislation, preceded by an exploration of the re-definition of privacy undertaken in the l960s in the United States. It analyses pioneering developments in European countries and in international organisations, as well as EU involvement, starting with seminal discussions in the 1970s and up to the 2012 legislative proposals for the future of EU data protection.
The exploration of these textual paths identifies the coexistence in EU law of divergent conceptions of what is (personal) data protection, and of its relationship with privacy, nurtured and recognised by instable linguistic correspondences. This coexistence, the thesis shows, is sustained by a structural ambiguity of the word privacy and of the different words that surround it in EU law, allowing them to operate as occasionally interchangeable, as well as to support evolving legal (in)distinctions, and ultimately resulting in the productive interplay which lies at the heart of the emergence of personal data protection as a EU fundamental right. Observing the announced replacement of privacy by personal data protection as the core reference in the upcoming EU data protection legal landscape, the thesis furthermore questions how these developments contribute to the fabrication of a new notion of (EU) fundamental right.
Datum Prijs29 mei 2013
BegeleiderSerge Gutwirth (Promotor) & Paul De Hert (Co-promotor)

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