MEP's report on new EU data protection rules gets critical reception

It's impossible to keep everyone happy, says German MEP Albrecht

A European Parliamentarian's report on proposed updates to data protection rules was criticized by rights advocates Tuesday.

German MEP (Member of European Parliament) Jan Philipp Albrecht's report was in response to the European Commission's proposed updates to data protection rules that date from 1995. In general, Albrecht supports the proposals for a coherent and robust data protection framework with strong enforceable rights for individuals, but does suggest some substantial modifications to the Commission's draft text.

Albrecht reiterated his view that pre-ticked boxes do not express free consent, and also pushed for a stricter "right to be forgotten" (the right to erase one's data if there are no legitimate grounds to retain it) as well as the inclusion of a definition of "anonymous data", following demands from fellow parliamentarians.

Albrecht also suggested a compromise on the controversial "legitimate interest" approach. Legitimate interest would allow companies to process personal data without permission if their reasons for doing so are more compelling than the individual's right to privacy. Albrecht suggested that this should only be allowed in "exceptional" circumstances and that the individual concerned must be informed.

Finally, Albrecht wants to significantly reduce the number of delegated acts. Delegated acts, also known as "Commission empowerments", allow the Commission to introduce more specific rules, if deemed necessary, without going through a long legislative process.

Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, who drew up the original Commission proposals, welcomed the report, along with another by Greek MEP Dimitrios Droutsas that suggests minor changes from a law enforcement perspective.

However not everyone was so pleased. European digital rights group, EDRi, said in a statement that "Albrecht has sought to improve on the Commission's initial proposal and to address many of the concerns raised by his colleagues, but the resulting text is therefore a mix of straightforward attempts at positive improvements and attempts at compromise based on the opinions so far expressed by his colleagues."

Meanwhile fellow parliamentarian, Alexandro Alvaro was even more critical. "The design is often vague, lacks bold proposals and in general, the report is lacking in depth and balance," he said on his website.

But Albrecht said a mixed response was to be expected. "With so many interests it is impossible to make everybody happy, but I think I have made everybody equally unhappy and that we are on the right track. I think it is always going to be difficult to strike the right balance between the rights of the individual on one hand and not overburdening businesses and public authorities with too much bureaucracy on the other. In my report, I also tried to take on board the concerns of the other committees which also examined the proposals," he said.

According to the European Commission, 72 percent of Internet users are worried that they give away too much personal data and feel they are not in complete control of their data. The Commission also projects that a single set of rules on data protection across the E.U. will remove unnecessary administrative requirements for companies saving businesses around ¬2.3 billion (US$3 billion) a year.

The European Parliament's LIBE Committee will discuss the draft reports on Jan. 10, and the Parliament as a whole will review them in March before a vote in April.

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

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Jennifer Baker

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