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23rd Jun 2017

Interview

New EU data law could end up weaker than old one

  • Albrecht says there is a risk the draft EU data bill will be weaker than existing legislation on data protection (Photo: Fritz Schumann)

Backroom discussions among pro-industry MEPs and lobbying efforts by large companies risks undermining fundamental rights in one of the largest EU legislative proposals to ever hit the European Parliament floor.

The victim of the opaque debates surrounding the draft EU data protection regulation is the citizen and the democratic credibility of the European Union as a whole, German Green Jan Philip Albrecht told this website in an interview on Wednesday (29 May).

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"We promised the people that we will help give a proper legislation that will better enforce their rights, better protect their interest … and in the end, the only thing that we are doing - and this is not excluded – is to water down existing law. That is not what people would like to see," he said.

Albrecht is the lead negotiator on the file at the European Parliament.

The draft bill proposed by the European Commission in January last year is going through the rounds among MEPs before they settle on an orientation vote in the civil liberties committee, possibly in early July.

The bill aims to harmonise existing data protection rules, which are currently based on a 1995 directive.

Among the issues are the right to be forgotten, data portability, profiling, consent and access to one’s own personal data.

But deputies are struggling to agree on around 4,000 amendments, some directly copy-pasted from corporate entities into the draft, possibly stalling the orientation vote in the civil liberties committee again.

Worse, says Albrecht, a number of the most salient amendments discussed and voted on would make the regulation weaker than the existing 1995 directive it is supposed to replace.

The 18-year-old EU law is seen as the baseline of the draft regulation and its lowest common dominator.

MEPs in 2011 voted on and adopted a resolution to ensure the regulation would be as strong, if not stronger, than the 1995 directive. MEPs backed the resolution in a near unanimous vote.

But the data protection declarations made in the resolution are being weakened in the draft bill, notes Albrecht.

“Some groups in Brussels are now acting against what the European Commission has proposed on the basis of what the parliament has demanded for,” he said.

The resolution states that the standards and principles set out in the 1995 directive should be further elaborated and enforced.

It calls for the commission to reinforce existing rules on “transparency, data minimisation and purpose limitation, informed, prior and explicit consent, data breach notification” and to increase people’s data rights.

It says consent should be considered valid only when it is “unambiguous, informed, freely given, specific and explicit.”

It also wants data portability and the right to have personal data deleted, corrected, or blocked.

“Much of what we have said unanimously is now contested by lobbyist groups and by some members in here in the house who seem not to feel obliged by the resolution they voted on in the first place,” said Albrecht.

He noted that the resolution had been strengthened when it received the backing of the citizen.

Concerns at the time narrowed in on the fear that a EU bill on data protection would strip away existing fundamental rights.

MEPs made a commitment in the resolution to ensure high standards and keep the basic fundamental rights intact.

"If we pass through a legislation undermining what we have said in our resolution, undermining current law, then I think we will completely lose the trust in the European Parliament and in the European Union as a whole," he said.

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