Friday 13 February 2009

You turn if you want...

Matron was slightly amused to learn that the European Commission decided to disband the Data Protection Expert Group it set up as recently as last year. Although the Commission allegedly denies any connection, rumour has it that the reason for its decision is a complaint lodged by Alex Tuerk, the French chairman of the Article 29 Working Group, that four of the five members of the group "represented American interests".

Indeed, the group included Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy counsel; David Hoffman, Intel's director of security policy and global privacy officer; as well as two privacy lawyers working for US law firms. The group was originally set up to provide independent expert advice to the Commission in relation to any specific or emerging issues relating to the current legislative framework for data protection. However, the Commission refused to confirm that this finally signalled the long awaited review of the 1995 Data Protection Directive. On the contrary, it emphasised that it did not envisage submitting any legislative proposal to amend the Directive in the short to medium term.

This attitude at least seems to have changed in the wake of the group's dismantling. There is now talk that the group will be disbanded into a wider consultation which is due to be launched at a conference organised by the Commission in May of this year.

The majority of privacy experts agree the that the Commission has been dragging its feed on this one and that a fresh look at the Directive is long overdue, particularly in light of the fact that changes to the framework are now being discussed - inappropriately many think - as part of the Telecoms Reform Package. So, as U-turns go, this one would be quite welcome. However, Matron worries that in this case a review may actually be used to water down the existing protection. If the negotiations relating to the proposed changes to the E-Privacy Directive are anything to go by, this concern does not seem to be entirely far fetched.

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