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26th Mar 2017

EU data supervisor wants greater powers

  • The European Data Protection Supervisor wants greater say on data protection issues in the EU institutions (Photo: Asteris Masouras)

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), Peter Hustinx, has unveiled a two-year strategy aiming to promote a “data protection culture,” increase oversight of EU institutions, and cut red tape.

Speaking at an event in Brussels alongside EU justice commissioner Vivianne Reding and EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, Hustinx on Tuesday (22 January) said the strategy is designed to make the EDPS more efficient and effective.

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“All EU institutions are bound now by the fundamental rights to privacy and protection of personal data, also when they process these data themselves,” said Hustinx.

The accelerated use of the Internet coupled with the increased collection of personal information online must be addressed with proper data protection rules, said Hustinx.

The EDPS wants to generate more awareness about the issue within the EU institutions and is proposing guidelines to help lawmakers when they design new legislation.

Closer working relations with the EU institutions and more on-the-spot visits and inspections are also foreseen.

“I am happy to report that we are present at [European] parliament meetings - most of the time,” said Hustinx.

The supervisor praised the working relationship with the European Commission and welcomed the regular invitations to informal meetings.

But the EU Council - where member states are represented - is a different matter, he noted.

The EDPS is excluded from regular Council meetings and unlike most national data protection supervisors, Hustinx is not invited to sit on the Council’s data protection working groups.

“I issue a challenge to the Council today, to treat us as a grown-up institution and a trusted partner,” said Hustinx.

Given the limited resources and budget restraints, the supervisor said the EDPS will need to narrow in its efforts on high priority and high risk cases. Focus areas include e-health, financial sector reform, and the expansion of the policing activities throughout the Union.

The EDPS says the more limited scope should alleviate some of the supervisor’s heavy case-load.

Commission right to intervene

For her part, Reding noted that the EDPS strategy conforms to her vision of creating a data protection culture.

“It is our common goal, our common priority,” said the justice commissioner.

But she also said that the Brussels executive should have the right to suspend decisions of a data protection authority “as a measure of last resort” under a so-called "consistency mechanism."

The mechanism is part of Reding’s data regulation proposal, which she introduced in January 2012 and which would only be applied to cases where conformity with EU law is doubtful.

“The commission has no intention of becoming a super data protection authority, that is not our job and it cannot be our job,” said Reding.

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