European privacy law being revised by Americans

This article from Bug Brother, a French blog similar to Henry Porter‘s warnings on civil liberties on Comment is Free, looks at the revision of the EU Directive concerning the right to privacy in the digital age.  Note the UK’s role as the only country without opposition to the US-centric composition of the group revising the directive, and previous information-sharing agreements between the EU and US.

European’s Right to Privacy to be ‘revised’ by… Americans

The European Directive on the protection, and “free movement”, of personal information dates from 1995. Since then, the internet has become dramatically bigger, as have the number and usage of files and the interconnection between them, as much by private enterprise as by governments and police.

The European Commission has thus decided to begin a process of revising the Directive, and to that end has appointed a group of experts, so as to respond to “the challenges of protecting personal information in the European Union, in view of the development of new technologies, globalisation, and questions of public security.”

But according to Alex Türk, President of the CNIL [French Commission for IT & Personal Freedoms] and of the G29, which groups all 27 of its European counterparts, the process may be subverted:

The composition of this group of experts raises extremely serious questions. It is, in fact, composed of five people, of whom four have a background in American businesses or law firms, whose headquarters are also in the United States. Only one member of the group is of European origin.

Having expressed to the European Commission my surprise at the composition of the group, the reply was that the issue surpasses that of nationality and, in particular, that it was important to find suitably-qualified experts.

Commisioner Jacques Barrot, who I met, acknowledged that the situation was exceptional. He proposed the idea of blending this group of experts into a wider consultation. To date, however, I have had no confirmation that this idea is to be implemented.

I must stress that my position is shared by the authorities of all the other member states, with the exception of the United Kingdom. In addition, I now know that the agenda of this group has already provoked internal debate between, on the one hand, the representative of the working group on Article 291 and, on the other side, the American experts, who had reached prior agreement.”

The situation is all the more comical, or problematic, because the US has “neither an independent oversight institution, nor a constitutional law, which are the two basic requirements of the European Commission and the Article 29 working group.”

In other words, experts representing a country which itself does not respect the fundamental criteria for the Right to Private Life, as implemented in Europe, are charged with revising the legal framework of our Right to Private Life and to suggest proposals to improve, or more probably, update it…

The French Senate’s Commission for European Affairs, judging “unacceptable” the composition of the group, has had a hearing with Alex Türk and, at his request, has proposed a European Resolution2. They are in shock:

Is it reasonable to entrust to these American experts the proposal of a legal concept to the European Commission, harmonising the American vision and the European vision? Must we accept that it is not possible to find suitably-qualified European experts?”

The answer often lies in the question…

1(29) Whereas the further processing of personal data for historical, statistical or scientific purposes is not generally to be considered incompatible with the purposes for which the data have previously been collected provided that Member States furnish suitable safeguards; whereas those safeguards must in particular rule out the use of the data in support of measures or decisions regarding any particular individual;

2Consequently, the Senate calls upon the Government:

– to request from the European Commission details of the conditions under which this group of experts was appointed, and to make representations in order that the proposals to be considered for any development of the legal framework around the protection of personal information in the European Union are agreed under conditions, which preserve the independent analysis of the European Union in the evaluation of its own laws and respect the principal of multilingualism;

– to oppose any proposal by the European Commission which has not been developed according to these conditions.


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