Saturday

26th May 2018

Sweden: EU data bill threatens transparency

  • The draft EU data protection regulation is too vague on access to documents, says Sweden's ministry of justice (Photo: Marcin Wichary)

Sweden’s ministry of justice says the EU’s draft data protection law could upset the delicate balance between transparency and privacy in its own national law on access to documents.

“With a regulation there is a need to make it perfectly clear that member states may keep their national rules on access to documents,” said David Torngren, an official at Sweden’s ministry of justice, in an email on Tuesday (19 March).

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Torngren described the right of access to official documents as a cornerstone of the Swedish constitution for the past 250 years.

“[It] has proved essential to ensure public oversight of public affairs,” he noted.

The EU data protection regulation is seen as one of the more complex legislative bills currently being pushed through at EU level.

Nearly 3,200 amendments have been tabled at the European Parliament alone.

The draft aims to overhaul a 1995 data protection directive to provide uniform data protection laws across member states. The "right to be forgotten" and "informed consent" are among some of the changes aimed to strengthen people's privacy rights.

Torngren’s concern stems from a vague one-line description of access to public documents buried near the bottom of the commission’s draft bill.

The sentence notes that the regulation “allows the principle of public access to official documents to be taken into account.”

But the terminology is too vague for some.

Swedish socialist MEP Anna Hedh, who tabled an amendment to clarify the text, says the sentence would render it more difficult to get a hold of public documents because of tougher privacy rights set at the EU level.

The Vienna-based Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) says member states should reserve balance privacy rights and access to documents.

Such a national balance should be clearly reflected in the regulation, says FRA.

“The problem is that it is not really a strong EU competence,” Mario Oetheimer, who heads FRA’s privacy and data protection freedoms and justice department, told this website on Wednesday.

The European Parliament is moving towards the FRA’s position and has added a line to the bill giving public authorities the right to disclose personal data in documents in accordance to member state laws.

German Green MEP Jan Albrecht, who drafted the parliament’s report, added the clause but as part of a minor provision.

Albrecht told EUobserver that he was open to the idea of expanding the text “to make sure that the access to documents is a right which is not overwritten by data protection in this regulation.”

He noted that outstanding issues remain in the area of fundamental rights, including transparency and freedom of expression, and how this could affect the privacy concerns outlined in the regulation, however.

“We still have some work to do on those areas,” he said.

The legal complications, he pointed out, come from the regulation’s attempt to harmonise competing fundamental rights where the EU has limited competence.

For its part, the commission says the regulation does not prevent the public access to documents and that it is seeking to resolve any outstanding issue with Sweden’s justice minister Beatrice Ask.

"I understand that this is an issue of constitutional and cultural importance. I am prepared to work on a tailor-made provision to deal with this,” said EU justice commissioner Vivianne Reding in early March.

Focus

Academics line up to defend EU data protection law

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.

GDPR - a global 'gold standard'?

The new EU privacy rules are touted as a global 'gold standard' - but Mexico's former data commissioner warns some nations are far from ready.

New GDPR enforcer says complaints imminent

The European Data Protection Board is a new EU body tasked with enforcing the EU's privacy laws with powers to impose massive fines. Its head Andrea Jelinek told reporters complaints against companies are expected to be immediate.

Eight countries to miss EU data protection deadline

The EU starts enforcing its general data protection regulation on 25 May - but Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovenia won't be ready. The delay will cause legal uncertainty.

Opinion

The dangers of resurgent nationalism in Greece

Virulent nationalism in Greece has been stirred up in the context of austerity and renewed negotiations with Macedonia. Recent attempts by the government to address the inequalities suffered by LGBT persons have also been met with a reactionary backlash.

News in Brief

  1. Italy set to pick eurosceptic finance minister
  2. UK foreign minister fooled by Russian pranksters
  3. Rajoy ally gets 33 years in jail for corruption
  4. Close race as polls open in Irish abortion referendum
  5. Gazprom accepts EU conditions on gas supplies
  6. Facebook tells MEPs: non-users are not profiled
  7. Commission proposes ending France deficit procedure
  8. UK households hit with Brexit income loss

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman requests more lending transparency from European Investment Bank
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  3. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and reconciliation is a process that takes decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  4. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  5. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  6. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  8. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  12. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach