As those who read this LibDem Voice article by Peter Bradwell of Open Rights group will know, I am currently the ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) group ‘shadow rapporteur’ on the draft EU Data Protection Regulation in the European Parliament.
I was not originally expecting to play a major role on this particular piece of legislation. But when my German FDP colleague Alexander Alvaro unfortunately suffered a serious car accident in February, the ALDE group appointed me as his interim replacement. I unwisely promised a response to Peter’s article ‘soon’! – but the last few months of negotiations have been very demanding. The new Regulation, unlike the existing 1995 EU Directive, will be directly applicable so leaving no room for flexibility in implementation and putting a premium on a clear text.
As a Liberal, I strongly believe that it is possible to have a synthesis of high data protection standards and support for innovation and jobs in the digital and other industries. Indeed, unless citizens and consumers have trust in the online environment businesses and interests like clinical research will not prosper. My aim in this reform is to strengthen individuals’ rights but doing so in a way which avoids confusing administrative processes with real privacy protection.
The legislative process has not been terribly well-handled. Although there are a lot of good things in the European Commission’s proposal, it is not flawless. It is too rigidly prescriptive in places, and Commissioner Viviane Reding made a headline-grabbing promise of a ‘right to be forgotten’ which could conflict with freedom of expression and academic research. Then the report by the German Green rapporteur Jan Albrecht was far from helpful to the challenge of getting agreement on a line in the European Parliament.
Getting the drafting right is certainly tricky. If we are to take account of different contexts and levels of risk, we have to try to tailor obligations in a workable way to a variety of data ‘controllers’ and ‘processors’, not only Google, Facebook etc but also a huge range of public and private organisations including small firms like high street shops.
I thought Open Rights group and Privacy International completely overreacted to one short letter of mine in the Financial Times which addressed solely the implication of an article that only ‘US tech giants’ were lobbying on the Regulation. I have for instance met the UK Federation of Small Businesses 3 times on the matter and they are very worried about costs.
I do not have space to go into all the details of the negotiations but you can read some of my thoughts in a riposte to a recent interview – which I also reproduce on my website – by the German Green rapporteur Jan Albrecht. He unjustly feeds the thesis that a ‘sellout’ is threatened, and you will see that I do not regard his operating methods as very constructive. The coming months will be even more stressful than the last ones.
* Sarah Ludford is London MEP and the Liberal Democrat European spokeswoman on justice & human rights. She is a leading member of the European Parliament's civil liberties, justice & home affairs committee.