There was a definite data protection buzz in Brussels this week as the European Parliament hosted a two-day Inter-parliamentary Committee Meeting to discuss the new EU Data Protection framework, proposed by the European Commission in January.
Representatives of global technology organisations, consumer protection groups, members of national parliaments and members of the EU institutions were prominent among the innumerable stakeholders there, each eager to present their views and contribute to the debate.
The conference was organised by the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), the body appointed by the European Parliament to assist with the data protection reforms, headed up by rapporteurs Jan Albrecht and Dimitrios Droutsas.
Since the Lisbon Treaty came into force in 2009, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union are jointly responsible for negotiating and agreeing upon legislative proposals put forward by the Commission. It follows then that this conference provided a fundamental platform upon which stakeholders could share their opinions and concerns, and an important means by which legislators could gain insight into the practical, legal and economic realities behind the proposals. These contributions will feed directly into the legislative process, and LIBE will no doubt consider them when preparing its draft opinion on the reforms which is expected later this year.
So what then was the outcome of the conference? There are certainly many questions that remain unanswered and it was pointed out by Simon Davies from the London School of Economics that there is almost no agreement among stakeholders on any single point. A huge amount of re-thinking and re-drafting will no doubt ensue. That said, what was abundantly clear was an overwhelming support in principle for the reforms and, despite there being some way to go in terms of getting the legislation right, a sense that the key people responsible for drafting it are listening to what people have to say.
For instance, Viviane Reding (the Vice President of the Commission) made it clear that the Commission would consider reducing the vast number of delegated acts. This will no doubt have come as welcome news to many. Delegated and implementing acts enable the Commission to supplement and amend certain non-essential elements of the legislation once it has come into force. In other words, they achieve flexibility and enable clauses to be drafted in a technologically neutral manner, making way for new technological innovations that will be prevalent in the years to come. The counter argument though is that delegated acts give the Commission excessive (and in many cases unnecessary) powers, which would constitute a bar to strengthening democracy and promoting transparency across the EU.
Francoise Le Bail (the Commission’s Director General for Justice), whilst defending the number of delegated acts currently drafted, recognised there were a lot of question marks and problems outstanding but stressed that stakeholder contributions were valued by the Commission which is determined to take into account the proposals and comments made. There is still room then for voices to be heard.
The debate on delegated acts was one thing, and there are no prizes for guessing some of the other controversial elements that repeatedly cropped up. The “right to be forgotten”, “one-stop-shop”, “consent”, “profiling” and “data protection by design” were all key concepts which unsurprising featured in the debate and, whether for or against them, the general view was clear. The drafting needs to be tightened up, and greater clarity is needed in many cases so as to be sure of the exact rights and obligations of everyone concerned.
The proposed legislation does after all affect a huge number people; not just citizens, but consumers, SMEs, global organisations and public authorities are all affected, and this was also a key feature of the debate. On the one hand, we were reminded that data protection is a fundamental right of each citizen in the EU and measures must be taken to protect that right; on the other we were reminded that data, which flows across the digital environment in ever-increasing volumes, is a hugely important economic asset, not-to-mention a vital component in terms of law enforcement.
So a balance needs to be struck. There are clearly business incentives for building trust in the digital environment, and similarly there is an undisputed recognition of the fact that we need to bolster the rights of individuals. It seems that all stakeholders are recognising the need to be flexible in their approach and response to these reforms, and are working hard to achieve a robust and coherent legal system that will, over the coming years, facilitate innovation whilst providing people with protection and control of their data, to enable the EU to continue to be a major player in the digital economy.
LIBE is expected to present its draft report on the proposed legislation by the end of this year, after which Member States will be invited to table their amendments. LIBE will then meet to discuss those amendments and it is expected that an orientation vote (where the committee votes and concludes upon its initial position in light of the negotiations) will be held in April 2013.
Tags: EU Data Protection