EIF debate on the reform of European data protection legislation

24 April 2012 Author: EIFonline

The EIF dinner debate held on 24 April 2012 advanced the running conversation concerning the pending changes to European Data Protection law. Alexander Alvaro, Vice-President of the European Parliament and EIF Governor, moderated the event.

The first speaker was Françoise Le Bail, Director-General for DG Justice, European Commission. She presented the case for the new directive, pointing out that the present seventeen year-old framework is no longer adequate as the socio-technological landscape has radically changed since those days when few had internet access at all. The Commission's aims are two-fold: to educate and to protect European citizens. She argued strongly for the advantages to those doing business in Europe of dealing with a single Data Protection Authority rather than struggling about in the present chaos of 27 differing, ofttimes conflicting, data protection schemes. She gave the example of the Google Street View case, which was interpreted in three distinct ways by national authorities. Le Bail addressed the important question of fines, saying that while it's impossible to please everyone the Commission's goal is an enforcement protection mechanism with effectively-sharp teeth. In the end she hopes they will achieve a result which increases protection for consumers, decreases cost to business by eliminating bureaucracy, and all without damaging European competitiveness in the global market. 

The next speaker on the docket, representing the position of industry, was Carlos Lopez Blanco, Director of International Office, Telefónica. He opened by stating that the telecoms industry broadly welcomes these reforms as, in their view, whatever is good for consumer confidence is good for business. As Blanco sees it, the crux of these reforms isn't really data but precisely this question of increasing the confidence of European citizens. Blanco hopes to see a harmonization of rules across the single market, a decreased administrative burden on data controllers, a clearer approach to consumer consent mechanisms, and (with a bit of luck) some regulatory coherence internationally, too. For, as Blanco observed, to European firms operating outside the common market competitiveness depends in large part on regulation which is compatible both at home and abroad.

Alexander Alvaro MEP closed the evening's talks. He pointed out that data protection isn't just about Google or Facebook, that the question equally applies to the shopper loyalty card issued by ones supermarket. He underlined many of Director-General Le Bail's points, stressing the timeliness and urgency of these reforms.Alvaro mentioned some challenges yet to be addressed, such as how penalties will apply to sometimes byzantine international corporate structures, refining gray areas in legal definition of personal data, and defining what a right-to-be-forgotten would look like in practice. Critical to the success of these reforms in his view is not to kill business for, as Alvaro estimates, ITC presently contributes about 20% to European economic growth. He pointed out that there may be challenges ahead for the Commission with member states, as not all may agree that about 80% of current national data protection legislation can be changed by the Commission under the delegated powers codified in the Lisbon Treaty. In closing, Alvaro stressed the importance of completing this reform during the present parliamentary term.

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