The Data Protection Directive is a European Union directive which regulates the processing of personal data within the European Union. It is an important component of EU privacy and human rights law.

The right to privacy is a highly developed area of law in Europe. All the member states of the European Union (EU) are also signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Article 8 of the ECHR provides a right to respect for one's "private and family life, his home and his correspondence", subject to certain restrictions. The European Court of Human Rights has given this article a very broad interpretation in its jurisprudence.

In 1980, in an effort to create a comprehensive data protection system throughout Europe, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) issued its "Recommendations of the Council Concerning Guidelines Governing the Protection of Privacy and Trans-Border Flows of Personal Data". The seven principles governing the OECD’s recommendations for protection of personal data were:

  1. Notice—data subjects should be given notice when their data is being collected;
  2. Purpose—data should only be used for the purpose stated and not for any other purposes;
  3. Consent—data should not be disclosed without the data subject’s consent; Security—collected data should be kept secure from any potential abuses;
  4. Disclosure—data subjects should be informed as to who is collecting their data;
  5. Access—data subjects should be allowed to access their data and make corrections to any inaccurate data; and
  6. Accountability—data subjects should have a method available to them to hold data collectors accountable for not following the above principles.