EU Parliament makes more than 900 changes to data privacy law

Civil liberties groups say politicians have caved in to big business pressure

The European Parliament's industry committee has approved more than 900 amendments to proposed new data protection laws.

Civil liberties groups and consumer organizations were quick to accuse members of the Parliament (MEPs) of caving in to pressure from big business and the U.S.

"The Conservative and Liberal parties in the Parliament have voted against the interests of European consumers, who expect MEPs to ensure existing E.U. data protection standards are not diluted," said Monique Goyens, director general of the European consumer organization, BEUC.

Lobbying continued right up the final minutes before the vote, particularly on members of the liberal ALDE group. Digital civil liberties organization, La Quadrature du Net, posted a message to Twitter to remind citizens that they had "less than an hour" to contact parliamentarians with the aim of blocking "dangerous amendments" supported by the European Peoples Party (EPP) and European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) .

EPP member Seán Kelly, the parliamentarian charged with steering the text through the Parliament's industry committee, ITRE, denied that he been pressured into any of the amendments. "My door was open, but nobody overly influenced me -- not big companies, NGOs or fellow MEPs," he said after the vote. He said the vote was a credit to the committee, saying the proposals were "by and large, well-balanced."

But according to Jeremie Zimmermann of La Quadrature Du Net, "Most of the compromise amendments attempt to modify the report by relaxing the obligations made to actors collecting personal data."

Digital activists are concerned about text that would allow companies that control data and third parties to process personal data without informing consumers, on grounds of "legitimate interest" except where such interests are overridden by the interests or fundamental rights and freedoms of the data subject.

"This consciously keeps consumers in the dark and affords a license to collect and process personal data according to commercial interests. Regrettably, the majority of ITRE committee members did not remain strong on this in the face of concerted commercial pressure," Goyens said.

"The definition of personal data has also been narrowed to exclude 'pseudonymous data' and suggested safeguards were ignored. This is risky because such data can easily be associated to individuals," she continued.

This amendment seems similar to a Yahoo position document, leaked on Wednesday, in which the U.S. tech giant recommends supplementing "the definition of personal data in the draft regulation by adding a distinct subset of data considered pseudonymous, which will trigger differential obligations."

Meanwhile a new website, LobbyPlag.eu, compares amendments put forward by MEPs with the text submitted by lobbyists for Amazon, eBay and the American Chamber of Commerce. Civil liberties activists are angry that European parliamentarians seem to have copied many amendments from these submissions.

On Thursday the Parliament's employment committee will also vote on the draft report. However, the civil liberties committee, LIBE, is the lead committee in assessing the proposed law and it will take into account the opinions of the other committees before giving its final position, calling the whole European Parliament to vote for or against the new regulation during the final vote in plenary session in April.

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

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