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19th Mar 2019

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EU takes step towards free flow of data

  • The idea of free flow of non-personal data means that information from one EU country should be able to be stored or transferred seamlessly to a server in another EU member state (Photo: European Union)

Ambassadors for the 28 EU countries embraced the idea of allowing non-personal data to flow freely across the bloc on Wednesday (20 December), by adopting a common position on a European Commission proposal.

"Seamless data mobility saves costs for businesses, especially for start-ups and SMEs, and is essential for many next-generation digital services," said Estonian minister for information technology Urve Palo in a statement.

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Estonia holds the six-month EU presidency until the end of December.

In the Council of the EU, diplomats on Wednesday adopted their desired version of the legislative proposal, which allows Estonia's successor, Bulgaria, to start talks over the final bill with the European Parliament.

The council has some changes it wants to make, and it can be expected of MEPs that they too will table amendments.

But the council embraced the principle of the draft bill, which is that non-personal data should be allowed to cross EU borders without restrictions, except in cases where the restriction is there for public security.

It will mean that EU member states that have laws restricting companies or organisations from storing data abroad, will have to change these laws.

They also will not be allowed to introduce new laws that would restrict data flows, except when public security is concerned. Governments would have to inform the commission and provide a justification.

The commission proposed that all laws and rules clashing with this principle of free flow of non-personal data should be repealed within twelve months of adoption of the regulation. The council proposed to give governments twice as much time.

The council also opposed the commission's idea to set up a Free Flow of Data Committee, and deleted the paragraph establishing such a body from its version.

The council decision on Wednesday came 98 days after the commission published its proposal, which is fast by the standards of the EU bubble.

It now needs to wait for the EU parliament to come up with its position, before the EU institutions can negotiate over the final outcome.

The MEP who was appointed to be in charge of steering the file through parliament on 25 October, centre-right Swede Anna Maria Corazza Bildt, has not yet written a draft report.

The file was initially attributed to the parliament's industry committee, and then to Corazza Bildt's internal market committee.

A draft report would need to be discussed and then voted on in the committee, and possibly in plenary, before talks can begin.

EU government leaders said in a summit last October that the legislative work should be done by June 2018.

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