Wednesday

8th Dec 2021

MEPs copy-pasting amendments from US lobbyists

  • US lobbying efforts on the EU's data protection package have intensified (Photo: christoph_aigner)

A handful of MEPs have copy-pasted amendments made by giant US-based IT companies directly into the EU’s new data protection law.

Among the names cited by the London-based NGO, Privacy International, in a report out on Monday (11 February) is British Conservative deputy Malcolm Harbour, who chairs the parliament’s internal market committee and who acts as his group's shadow rapporteur on the data bill.

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The advocacy group said that he "proposed amendments with over 25 percent of content copied directly from lobby papers."

In one instance, the American Chamber of Commerce, a pro-business advocate in Brussels, and the European Banking Federation (EBF), suggested that creating new data protection supervisors within companies should be optional and not mandatory, as in the original EU draft.

Online bookstore Amazon and auction site Ebay wanted to delete a paragraph in the EU draft that would prevent firms from using people's data if their consent was not properly established.

Amazon also wanted to change a provision aimed at protecting EU data stored on non-EU clouds.

Harbour’s tabled amendments reflect the positions of all three.

For his part, Harbour told this website by email: “The fact that businesses involved in using and protecting personal data agree with amendments is not a reason to discount them, or to try to suggest that those who agree with their approach are worthy of censure.”

He noted that he held meetings with consumer groups and government representatives as well as industry.

"The amendments I tabled were ones that I considered would improve the directive, especially in terms of data protection, control, and transparency for data subjects," he added.

Other names cited by Privacy International include British Conservative MEPs Sajjad Karim and Giles Chichester.

But they are not the only ones.

EUobserver has learned that deputies from the Socialist, Liberals and centre-right EPP groups have also taken up industry ideas word for word.

One MEP copied an amendment from the EBF and Eurofinas, a pro-consumer credit provider lobby.

The two groups inserted "or by the third party or parties to whom the data are disclosed" in an article on processing personal data. The additional phrase means a company can share someone's data with anyone that has a "legitimate interest," like the content industry.

The alarm bell was initially rung by Austrian law student Max Schrems.

Schrems came to prominence in 2011 when he challenged Facebook to remove all his personal data from the Internet and currently runs a pro-transparency group called Europe vs. Facebook.

He told EUobserver that he compared lobby papers with amendments tabled by the MEPs in preparation for his meeting with deputies in Brussels.

"When I read it [one MEP's proposed change], I just read the same exact wording from the lobby paper,” he said.

A German Green MEP, Jan Albrecht, has also said that lobbying on EU data protection laws, especially by the American Chamber of Commerce, has reached hysterical levels.

“It’s obvious there is no transparency anymore. Who is lobbying for what? There is a blurring going on,” he noted.

Committees will put forward their opinions at the end of the month before the civil liberties committee finalises its position on 24 April.

Obama administration lobbies Brussels

The attempt to punch holes in EU data protection laws is not limited to industry heavyweights.

On 4 February, a letter from US consumer and civil liberties groups like the ACLU, also raised concerns that the US administration is directly trying to weaken the EU data package.

The letter, which is addressed to the US secretary of state and attorney-general among others, accuses the US government of mounting an “unprecedented lobbying campaign” to curtail the data protection rights of EU citizens for the benefit of US industry.

A week prior to the letter, John Rodgers, an economic officer in the state department was in Berlin making threats.

Rodgers told a conference in the German capital that "things could really explode" in terms of a trade war if the EU did not cut the Schrems-type, "right to be forgotten" provision from its bill, German industry paper Heise Online reported.

The EU’s draft regulation entitles EU citizens to force companies to immediately delete their personal data upon request.

The US, for its part, says the EU needs to review the right to be forgotten and a related "right to erasure" clause in the draft law because it would stymies industry innovation.

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