Civil rights coalition says EU data protection bill threatens citizens' rights

Many proposed changes would weaken the legislation, the coalition says

Some of the proposed changes to Europe's data protection laws would strip citizens of their privacy rights, a coalition of international civil liberties organizations said Thursday.The European Parliament is currently considering proposals from the European Commission for a complete overhaul of the E.U.'s data protection laws. The original laws date from 1995, the pre-Internet age, and are arguably in great need of an update.However, the debate about how to update them has been intense. Creating one regulation to replace national data protection and privacy laws in the 27 E.U. countries obviously requires compromise, but many parliamentarians report never seeing lobbying on such a scale before. In an effort to reach some sort of consensus, more than 4,000 changes to the draft text have been proposed.The civil liberties coalition, which includes Access, Bits of Freedom, EDRI, La Quadrature du Net and Privacy International, has set up a website, nakedcitizens.eu, to help concerned citizens contact their representatives in the Parliament.The groups have also presented a report based on their analysis of the proposed amendments. "Among the thousands of amendments tabled are a large number that threaten to severely weaken privacy rights in the U.K.," the report said. "These damaging amendments are largely the result of an unprecedented lobbying storm by big U.S. tech companies, the U.S. government and the advertising industry.

Some of the lobbying positions were published earlier this year at LobbyPlag.eu, a website that compares amendments put forward to the text submitted by lobbyists such as Amazon, eBay and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

One suggested amendment would alter the way Web companies could define "consent" to gather data, according to the coalition. Rather than "informed, specific and explicit" consent, companies could "assume consent has been given or to include consent language in hard to understand terms and conditions" the report said.

Another contentious issue is the right to be forgotten. Much of the concern is over the role of search engines. Privacy advocates want to see the burden of proof shifted from consumers justifying why data should be deleted to businesses having to prove why it should be kept.

"Without effective privacy protection, our personal lives are laid bare, to be used and abused by business and governments," said Joe McNamee of European Digital Rights and spokesperson of the coalition.

The final committee vote in the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament is due to occur on May 29. Once the committee has given its opinion, the proposal will be voted on by Parliament. Only then can it be signed by the member states.

Ireland, which currently holds presidency of the European Union, is keen to see the new law signed before the end of its term July 1.

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

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