Brussels plans to rubber-stamp new data laws before next May’s elections have been thrown into disarray after EU ministers last week failed to agree on one of the key tenets of the reforms – the one-stop-shop for data protection – following legal objections.
The move is a major blow to justice commissioner Viviane Reding’s plans, as well as US tech companies, such as Facebook and Google, which had lobbied hard for the introduction of the rule. It would have allowed companies to deal with a single privacy regulator rather than competing national ones. That provision was meant to minimise the burden of complying with the new rules.
But the rather aptly named Hubert Legal, head of the legal service for the European Council, said the rule – while helping companies – undermined citizens’ human rights.
“The problem is the results you get in terms of respecting the functioning of justice and people’s rights is actually a very bad outcome, a very bad result and as your legal adviser I have to tell you it’s a bad outcome,” he told justice ministers of the 28 member states.
Germany proved the most resistant to the one-stop-shop proposal, and received backing by ministers from the Czech Republic, Denmark and Hungary.
“This proposal involves replacing all of the German consumer rights on data protection – which is around 100 pages – and we therefore have to be careful that that our high standards remains,” Ole Schrӧder, secretary of state in the German federal ministry of the interior said. “Harmonisation, yes, but not at any price.”
The delay has incensed Reding as ministers agreed in principle to the one-stop-shop plan in October, so the failure represented a blow to achieving agreement on a complicated dossier.
“Today’s meeting was a disappointing day for data protection… today we have moved backwards and I am very disappointed about that, because a swift agreement would be important for our citizens as well as our companies,” she said.
Meanwhile, German Green MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht – head of the civil liberties (LIBE) committee – who is spearheading the reforms added: “It’s just ridiculous. The German government has talked about data protection throughout the last months, Chancellor Angela Merkel said it is a priority and then the German interior minister is going to Luxemburg and Brussels and doing exactly the opposite.
“They use the argument that they are safeguarding German consumer rights, but these arguments are lies, because the Parliament has insisted on consumer protections which are of exactly the same standards as those in Germany,” Albrecht added.
One regulator who will not be upset by the U-turn is the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, who, under the proposals, would have had a major increase in its workload as so many tech companies now have their HQs in the country.
The Irish office has a budget of £1.3m, and there had already been serious concerns over how such a small organisation could possibly regulate the likes of Facebook (with revenues nearing $3bn) and Google (on $50bn).
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