Corporate interests dominate group working on EU data law

A new study says big business has too much influence over EU lawmakers

The European Commission's Expert Groups, which play a vital role in shaping E.U. policies and legislation, are dominated by corporate interests, according to a report released Wednesday.

The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (Alter-EU), a coalition of 200 civil society groups, trade unions, academics and public affairs firms, examined the make up of all new Expert Groups established since September 2012.

Expert Groups are advisory bodies that are supposed to provide input from all stakeholders in areas where the Commission lacks internal expertise, but the Alter-EU examination found that overall, 52 percent of seats were taken by representatives of big business, compared to 3 percent for small businesses (with fewer than 250 employees) and 3 percent for trade unions.

Alter-EU's calculations exclude representatives of governments and focus entirely on places given to non-government stakeholders.

One of the problems is that of labelling. According to the study, since September 2012, only 17 percent of organizations representing corporate interests have been correctly labelled as "Corporate." The majority, 66 percent, are referred to as "Associations."

"This term gives no indication what interests the organization in question may represent, and it may well be linked to big business," said one of the report's authors, Pascoe Sabido.

And of the Commission's newly appointed "Independent" experts, more than half are in fact representing corporate interests, the report said.

One of the extreme cases, according to Alter-EU, is the Expert Group on data retention set up by the Home Affairs Department.

The E.U. has had a Data Retention Directive since 2006. However, the controversial law has been heavily criticized by human rights and privacy campaigners for its blanket data-retention requirements.

The directive requires telecom providers to retain for between six month and two years data on the source, destination, time, date, duration and type of all communications by fixed and mobile telephone, fax and Internet, and on the location and type of equipment used, so that it can be used by state agencies investigating "serious crime."

The European Court of Justice may indeed decide to annul the Directive and Yves Bot, the court's advocate general, will present his (non-binding) opinion on Thursday. A a final ruling is expected at the beginning of July 2014.

Despite the opposition to the law, the newly created Data Retention Expert Group is dominated by the telecommunications industry and has no civil society representatives.

All five of the organizations in the group represent the telecom industry. They are Cable Europe; EuroISPA; ECTA (the European Competitive Telecommunications Association); ETNO (the European Telecommunications Network Operators association); and GSMA.

There are two other members. Gerald McQuaid, a "representative of an interest" is listed in as the chairman of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute Lawful Interception and Data Retention Committee, an industry standardization body, but is also a senior manager at Vodafone.

Meanwhile, Christopher Kuner of corporate law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati is in the Data Retention group in a "personal capacity." But he is also the chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce task force on Privacy and the Protection of Personal Data, "not a role that can be considered independent," Alter-EU said.

Another series of groups that caused concern for Alter-EU are the so-called Licences for Europe groups that were set up by the Internal Market Department to examine "market-based solutions to improve the availability of digital content in the E.U."

The group is led by Maria Martin-Prat, who although originally at the Commission, is now deputy general counsel at IFPI (the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry). According to the report, the Internal Market Department does not publish a list of group or subgroup members, instead giving a list of those organizations invited to participate.

Alter-EU found that in the "User-generated content and licensing" subgroup, 78 percent of participants represent the copyright industry, while 13 percent represent civil society. In the 'intellectual property valuation' subgroup, eight of the 10 members represented corporate interests.

Another issue raised by Alter-EU is how group members are chosen. Since September 2012 only 40 percent of new groups put out public calls for membership.

But some departments fared better than others. Connect, the department responsible for the digital agenda, has made open calls for all of their groups created since September 2012. Connect groups also have twice as many academics as corporate representatives -- 8 percent and 16 percent, respectively.

Two groups were set up by Connect in the past year. The Advisory Forum for Research and Innovation in ICT includes 12 corporate members, 12 academic members, 1 hybrid and a two small businesses while on the Young Advisors Expert Group on implementation of the Digital Agenda for Europe only two out of 27 members are corporates.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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