Wednesday

22nd Sep 2021

German-led moves to weaken EU data bill a 'scandal'

  • Germany is leading efforts to weaken the EU data bill (Photo: BriYYZ)

German diplomatic cables and thousands of pages of leaked classified EU documents reveal behind-the-scenes efforts by governments to weaken the EU’s data protection bill.

LobbyPlag.eu, which obtained the cables and documents, on Tuesday (10 March), found that 132 of 151 (87%) changes by member states lowered privacy protections.

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They say 40 (26%) are even lower than the current 1995 rules that the bill is supposed to update and replace.

Only 19 (13%) are said to improve protection standards. Many of those were tabled by Hungary, Austria, and Greece.

Despite its public statements on the need for strong data protection, Germany is shown to be leading the pack of member states seeking more business-friendly standards throughout the whole of Europe.

Out of 73 amendments proposed by Berlin, only 11 are pro-privacy. The UK comes in second for having tabled 49 anti-privacy amendments, followed by Ireland (33) and the Czech Republic (28).

The German moves contradict last year’s call by Chancellor Angela Merkel for tough data protection rules in the wake of revelations about the US-led mass digital surveillance of EU nationals.

Her interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, made similar comments by describing privacy in the digital age “as more important than ever”.

Yet email exchanges between lobbyists and his cabinet published in the German weekly Der Spiegal point to a cozy relationship.

The LobbyPlag leaks come ahead of a meeting of justice ministers on Friday (13 March), meant to reach agreement on the principles for processing personal data.

The principle allows “personal data [only to] be collected and processed for specified and explicit purposes”.

According to the LobbyPlag, Germany wants the principle removed.

Parliament’s lead negotiator on the bill, German Green Jan Phillip Albrecht, in a statement released on Wednesday (11 March), described the watering-down attempts by national governments as “a scandal”.

He noted proposals made by both the UK and Germany would allow businesses to use people’s data without their explicit consent for marketing and or determining credit-worthiness.

He said such moves are below existing EU data protection rules and only benefit Internet firms.

“This cannot be allowed to stand and the other ministers cannot agree,” he said.

The European Commission, for its part, refrained from commenting on the leaks.

"We continue to work towards a regulation that will put into place data protection safeguards at least as strong as in the 1995 directive and offer a more effective protection," said an EU commission spokesperson in an email.

Tripartite negotiations between the EU institutions are set to start in June with the hope of reaching an agreement before the end of the year.

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