EU: Will the new data protection rules be even weaker than the old ones?

The draft regulation on data protection proposed by the European Commission in January 2012 is being debated by MEPs to decide on de direction of the vote to be taken in the civil liberties committee, possibly at the beginning of July 2013.

The draft, which has more than 4000 amendments focuses on issues such as the right to be forgotten, data portability, profiling, consent and access to one’s own personal data.

Some of the many amendments are resulted from the high and continuous lobbying pressure from large companies and seem to be meant to delay the process and undermine fundamental rights. Peter Hustinx, the EDPS, has warned that the EU’s bill is in danger of collapse because of “excessive lobbying” by corporations and other entities which are against the privacy reform.

The lobbyists argue that strong data protection will trigger social and economic regression and that principles such as consent are economically unsustainable and should be diluted. The US has several times asked, publicly, for the weakening of the rights of European citizens. Stewart Robinson, Justice Counsellor with the US Mission to the EU, at the Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference in Brussels in January 2013, condemned the European proposals and stated that rights were “what we (the government) give you”.

As if external pressure was not enough, the MEPs seem to be unable to agree upon such issues as territorial scope. UK Liberal MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford argued that companies in the EU which cater only to non-EU residents should be exempt from the regulation and stated that there was a need to “get legal clarity on which individuals are covered by the proposed regulation, whether it is people when they are present in the EU or those outside the EU.” As deputies have not reached a common agreement, the issue is to be negotiated by the Commission.

German Green Jan Philip Albrecht gave euobserver.com in an interview on 29 May 2013 a pretty pessimistic view on the development of the debates: “We promised the people that we will help give a proper legislation that will better enforce their rights, better protect their interest … and in the end, the only thing that we are doing – and this is not excluded – is to water down existing law. That is not what people would like to see.” In his opinion, some of the amendments discussed and voted on would make the regulation even weaker than the existing 1995 directive which is the foundation of the draft regulation.

Albrecht’s opinion is that actually the draft text might end in weakening all the previous declarations of the European Parliament. “Much of what we have said unanimously is now contested by lobbyist groups and by some members in here in the house who seem not to feel obliged by the resolution they voted on in the first place,” said Albrecht.

For instance, the original outline of the regulation set out penalties of up to five percent of a company’s global revenue for egregious and repeated misuse of personal information. This has reached down to two percent and further on, the Industry, Research and Energy Committee of the European Parliament voted to lower the ceiling even further to one percent.

With a lot of pressure from large companies, it is up to the citizens to stand up for their rights by writing to their MEPs before it is too late. It is also possible that the debate will be delayed by the numerous amendments.

Source: EDRI-gram “Will the new data protection rules be even weaker than the old ones?” Number 11.11, June 5, 2013

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