Data protection was introduced in Western Europe in the early 1970s and now also extends to Central and East European countries. It is a remarkable example of the response given by Human Rights law to the challenges of modern society. The applications of science and technology in the fields of informatics and biomedicine have produced results unforeseen by any legislator. Regulation has been developed under the leadership of the Council of Europe. It aims at laying down basic principles of data protection but without blocking the future. The author presents a historical survey of the Council of Europe's two main treaties relevant to protection of medical and genetic data, those of 1981 (data protection) and 1997 (bioethics) and of several other texts. He concludes that the European Human Rights Convention should be reinforced with specific provisions on 'medical human rights' and on data protection. He also comes out in favour of separate treatment of traditional medical files and genetic data.