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22nd Sep 2017

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Academics line up to defend EU data protection law

  • The European Commission says internet technologies can help boost the EU's overall economic output (Photo: powtac)

Leading academics across Europe are signing an online petition to support the European Commission’s draft data protection regulation in protest at industry lobbying to weaken it.

“They decided they had to do something against EU lobbying on the draft regulation,” said Anne Grauenhorst, who helps manage the site for the Centre for Advanced Security Research Darmstadt (Cased), on Monday (11 March).

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The Data Protection in Europe’ site was launched in February by five German academics and an Austrian colleague.

To date, over 80 professors from computer science, law, economics and business administration disciplines have joined.

The academics are spread among 19 member states while others have signed on from Switzerland and Norway. More are joining.

“If you had asked me last week, if we would have 80, I would have told you that certainly I would have liked it but I wouldn’t have made any promises,” Dr Kai Rannenberg, professor at Goethe-University in Frankfurt/Main and one of the initiators of the project told EUobserver.

Rannenberg said the intensity of lobbying in Brussels to weaken the regulation by the industry prompted them to create the site.

“The fact that so many came [to sign the position] actually shows that the situation is serious,” noted Rannenberg.

The commission’s draft updates an 18-year old directive that aims to bring the law in line with the latest technologies.

The right to be forgotten and fines for organisations that mishandle personal data are among the novelties some experts believe will ensure greater privacy rights for individuals.

The protection of personal data is also guaranteed under the charter of fundamental rights.

But pro-industry groups are pushing amendments into the regulation to help shape parliamentary committee opinion reports.

Some of the amendments weakened the commission’s draft by removing safeguards and introducing terminology that is more open to interpretation in favour of industry.

The reports are then passed onto the civil liberties committee who get the final say in April before it goes to vote in the plenary.

The LobbyPlag website exposed in February dozens of euro-deputies who copy-pasted industry proposed amendments directly into the regulation.

The practice, while not uncommon by EU lawmakers when drafting legislation, convinced some academics to sign the petition and help shift the debate away from the industry’s view that the regulation would harm innovation and competition.

The Data Protection in Europe site notes, for example, that the uncertainty over data protection itself is what prevents some companies from adopting cloud computing services.

“We have seen that a regulatory context can promote innovation,” say the academics.

The site refers to a study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group, a US-based firm, that states profit potential could be seriously undermined if people do not trust companies who want to use their personal data.

The group estimates €440 billion in 2020 in the EU alone is at risk if the industry fails to establish a trusted flow of data.

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