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Data protection reforms rapporteur accused of not reflecting 'weight of opinion' of fellow MEPs

A UK MEP has claimed that the lead rapporteur on EU data protection reforms at the European Parliament is putting forward proposals for a new framework that do not reflect the "weight of opinion" of MEPs.04 Jun 2013

The Parliament and EU Ministers are separately in the midst of forming final views on what a new EU data protection law framework should look like prior to entering into a period of negotiations to agree on the content of a final legislative package. The European Commission originally put forward plans which would overhaul the current data protection law regime in the trading bloc in January 2012.

However, Liberal Democrat MEP for London Sarah Ludford has said that German MEP Jan Albrecht is planning to include proposed amendments to the Commission's draft General Data Protection Regulation that stand no chance of gaining support among fellow MEPs. Albrecht is the European Parliament's lead rapporteur on the reforms for the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee. LIBE is leading the Parliament's scrutiny of the European Commission's proposals.

"The draft 'compromises' you are putting forward fail to reflect what you know to be the weight of opinion," Ludford said in an email sent to Albrecht and published on the UK MEP's website. "For example on Article 6 you have just retabled the drafting on 'legitimate expectations' from your own report which you absolutely know cannot get a majority, let alone a consensus."

In January this year Albrecht published a draft report on behalf of LIBE which proposed several amendments to the Commission's original plans, whilst a number of other committees at the Parliament have also suggested revisions. In total more than 4,000 amendments to the Commission's draft framework have been proposed by MEPs. Amongst the revisions to the Commission's draft that Albrecht proposed were restrictions to the ability of organisations to rely on the claim that they have a 'legitimate interest' in processing personal data.

At the moment businesses that process personal data within the EU can lawfully conduct that activity without the consent of individuals in accordance with certain provisions of data protection law. One of the most common lawful basis organisations rely on to process personal data without consent is where they claim to have a 'legitimate interest' in processing the information. Businesses can rely on this provision providing their processing does not unduly prejudice the rights and freedoms of individuals.

In his draft report, Albrecht proposed that companies should only be able to rely on the 'legitimate interests' provisions in "exceptional circumstances". The rapporteur's report also set out proposed amendments that set out when organisations' 'legitimate interests' could be said to be unduly prejudicial to individuals' rights, and vice versa. 

However, Ludford said that Albrecht's proposed new laws on 'legitimate interests' contained a "weird combination of tight prescriptiveness in defining legitimate interest grounds but then puzzling latitude in allowing the data controller to override the fundamental rights of the data subject".

Ludford said that it was an example of Albrecht proposing "unworkable or unclear language" for inclusion in the draft new regime. The UK MEP was commenting after Albrecht was quoted in a report by the EU Observer website as saying that MEPs were going against commitments made in a previous resolution voted on by the Parliament by trying to "water down existing law".

"Much of what we have said unanimously is now contested by lobbyist groups and by some members in here in the house who seem not to feel obliged by the resolution they voted on in the first place," Albrecht said, according to the report. "If we pass through a legislation undermining what we have said in our resolution, undermining current law, then I think we will completely lose the trust in the European Parliament and in the European Union as a whole."

However, Ludford said that she had legitimate concerns about some of Albrecht's proposals and refuted that she was "trying to weaken data protection rights".

"I am just trying to ensure rigour and clarity in the text, essential for a directly applicable Regulation that is comprehensible and accessible for all parties," Ludford said. "I am dismayed that you are stirring things up without justification."