EU ministers agree in principle to new data protection oversight

Under proposal, companies will have just one privacy authority to deal with

Despite disagreements, Europe's justice ministers Monday agreed "in principle" that companies doing business in the European Union will have to answer to only one data protection authority rather than 28.

The "one stop shop" principle is central to the proposal put forward by E.U. Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding.

Under the proposed rule, when personal data is processed by a company in more than one member state, one single supervisory authority should be responsible for monitoring the activity -- namely, the supervisory authority of the member state in which the company has its main establishment.

French officials had called for a joint decision-making method between national supervisory authorities, but others, including Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter, were strongly against the idea. The new one-stop shop rule could have big ramifications for Ireland as many international companies such as Facebook and Google are based there, meaning the Irish data protection authorities would have jurisdiction.

"The aim is to develop a simple, fast mechanism that would contribute to a more consistent application of the data protection rules in the E.U., to ensure legal certainty and reduce the administrative burden," said Lithuanian Justice Minister Juozas Bernatonis.

Reding, meanwhile, pointed out benefits to the consumer: "A citizen who has a problem will address himself to his own data protection authority, not as is currently often the case, a foreign authority."

The commissioner also said that Monday's decision sent a message to the European Parliament that consensus can be reached. The proposed law must be approved by the Parliament before it can enter into force. Discussions on the full text of the law, which includes the controversial "right to be forgotten," have stalled in Parliament with politicians attempting to assimilate more than 4000 possible amendments to the text.

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

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