Monday

23rd Oct 2017

Interview

The man behind the EU parliament's data regulation

  • German Green Albrecht says the regulation will give people the opportunity to enforce their rights (Photo: Fritz Schumann)

Jan Philipp Albrecht is overseeing one of the most extensive and complex pieces of legislation to ever hit the European Parliament.

Just 30 years old, the German Green MEP is the parliament’s top negotiator on the EU draft data protection regulation.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The regulation, first introduced by EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding in January 2012, promises to balance data rights with business interests.

The implications of the law are far-reaching, with its importance reflected in the scale of the lobbying effort - some 4,000 amendments have been introduced into Albrecht’s draft.

The parliament’s lead committee on the dossier was supposed to deliver its verdict on the file already in April. That was pushed back to the end of May. Now, it has been pushed back for a second time.

“If we do not manage to vote end of May, then we will vote somehow the mid or the end of June. It depends on two or three weeks possibly, but the aim is really to finish this before we go into the summer break because that is also the aim of the council (representing member states),” Albrecht told this website in an interview.

The MEP, who wrote his master’s thesis on information and telecommunications law, found himself taking the lead on the file after the Green group applied to take on the task.

“There is an acknowledgement in the committee that I am very familiar with the subject,” he said.

He noted that euro-deputies are now going through each one of the regulation’s 91 articles, debating the details, whittling away the thousands of amendments in the hope of reaching an agreement and a committee orientation vote.

When it happens, the committee decision will provide guidance for how the whole parliament will vote when the bill hits the plenary floor.

Of those 4,000-or-so amendments, 46 have been red flagged by privacy rights advocates.

Most, but not all, of the 46 were tabled by conservative euro-deputies in the parliament’s largest group, the EPP. The Liberal group tabled the rest of them. Together, the two groups hold a majority in the parliament.

The package-of-46 concern weakening the definition of consent, making it easier to profile people without their say-so, allowing companies to process personal data without notifying the consumer and enabling the tracing of people's identities through the use of pseudonymous data.

The texts were largely written by, or in the interest of, big US tech companies, the US government and the advertising industry.

“There are many amendments that go in the same direction or take on the same issue in different directions,” said Albrecht.

He highlighted "the legitimate concerns" of small businesses or SMEs. Under his draft, small businesses would need a data protection officer if they process the personal details of more than 500 people per year.

The officer is not required to be a full time employee, but SME groups say small businesses are already struggling amid the economic crisis. They say the additional expense of hiring a data protection officer, even part-time, for a hotel or restaurant could possibly push them into bankruptcy.

Albrecht noted that small companies which do not process data as a core activity would not need to hire a full-time staff member, however.

Instead, authorities could demand them to review their data practices on a case by case basis if specific worries arise.

“It is clear for everyone that there is a legitimate concern … [some MEPs] that do not want to take it on board and just exclude small businesses completely from data processing rules,” he explained.

Meanwhile, larger businesses with a global presence have taken issue with the proposed sanctions for non-compliance, which they say are too severe.

The regulation calls for fines of up to 2 percent of a company’s global turnover if they fail to abide by its rules.

But Albrecht says the 2 percent rule is appropriate.

“It is still only 20 percent of what we have in competition [law], so it’s quite reasonable and it’s important to say that it is only the maximum possible,” he said.

He added that it needs to be proportionate to the size of the company. A two percent fine for a small company would be out of line, he says, but acceptable for a large corporation.

Meanwhile, Albrecht’s own personal data has been breached and violated a number of times.

The personal data of more than 1 million customers of the Belgian train company SNCB Europe were made available on-line in December 2012. Albrecht’s details were among them.

The data was posted online by hackers who breached the company’s databanks through a simple search query. The data, which included email addresses, telephone numbers, names, phone numbers and home addresses, was made freely available on the website.

“Anybody who searched it would now know where I live in Brussels,” said Albrecht.

German data chief attacks credit-profile firms

Imagine trying to buy stuff online but being refused because you live in a low-income postcode. It happens in Germany, with hope for change pinned to a new EU law.

EU data bill exposes political rifts

Ideological and political divisions emerge among European Parliament political groups as they debate amendments on the draft EU data protection bill.

EU gives thumbs up to US data pact

Commission gives 'thumbs-up' to controversial Privacy Shield deal with US on data sharing after a year's operation - but notes room for improvement.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi Jinping Proposes Stronger Global Security Governance at Interpol Assembly
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaEU Engagement Could Contribute to Lasting Peace in Nagorno-Karabakh
  3. UNICEFViolence in Myanmar Driving 12,000 Rohingya Refugee Children Into Bangladesh Every Week
  4. European Jewish CongressBulgaria Applauded for Adopting the Working Definition of Antisemitism
  5. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  6. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  8. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  9. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  10. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  11. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  12. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  2. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  4. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year
  5. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  6. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State
  7. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  8. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation
  12. UNICEFSocial Protection in the Contexts of Fragility & Forced Displacement