EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova’s priorities over the coming year are to fully exploit the potential of new technologies while ensuring that ‘fundamental rights that apply offline should also apply online’, she told a breakout session at today’s Global Law Summit.

The Czech politician was making her first public speech in the UK since taking up the justice, consumer protection and gender equality portfolio last autumn. 

Jourova added that new legislation to balance the benefits of the internet with the need to guard against threats to users’ privacy should give consumers ‘more control and more choice, while future-proofing protections suitable for the digital age’.

World Wide Web Foundation CEO Anne Jellema agreed. ‘The web has unleashed a tidal wave of innovation,’ she said, ‘but it has also created a tidal wave of data about ourselves. The law [protecting our privacy] is lagging behind the power of technology.

‘And governments are moving aggressively to expand their surveillance capacities.’

London MEP Claude Moraes recalled a visit to the European parliament by world wide web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee. ‘Any distinguished British guest at the European parliament is always nice,’ he said, ‘because Euroscepticism is so deeply embedded in the British psyche.’

Dr Gus Hosein, director of campaign group Privacy International wound up the panel discussion by saying that ‘the present is broken’, but that he is optimistic for the future because Google and other leading innovators are increasingly awake to the need to protect the internet both technologically and legally.

He warned delegates that GCHQ constantly monitors social media through its ‘Squeaky Dolphin’ program. ‘If things are bad now,’ he said, ‘they can only get worse.’

There are three ways to protect yourself, he ended. ‘Understand the technology, demand better technology and don’t allow the internet to discriminate against you – as it does in the US, where American citizens may not be spied upon, but foreigners routinely are.’

The debate, 'A digital Magna Carta and a state of exception', was chaired by Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon.