All eyes are currently on the Council of the EU to figure out when and in what form we are likely to see a new EU data protection law emerging. The adoption of this law, which has been in the making since the European Commission presented its vision for a modern privacy regime in 2010, will have vital and global implications for the future of our data-driven existence. This explains the cautious progress so far, but the need for a modernised regime is pressing. Six presidencies have so far managed the adoption process within the Council—which together with the European Parliament has legislative responsibility for passing EU laws—and each has made its own contribution to the process. But the Council has been the key focus of attention of the ongoing legislative process since the European Parliament approved its own draft of the EU Data Protection Regulation in early 2014.
Assuming a fair amount of hard work and that the EU institutions are able to put their political skills to good use, 2015 may be the year that sees the culmination of a legal modernisation process that has been running for the best part of four years. It was in 2010 when the European Commission formally acknowledged that the 1995 Data Protection Directive was ready for a makeover to address the privacy and data protection needs of the 21 century. Since then, stakeholders covering a whole spectrum of views have participated in a process that is approaching a decisive stage. In early 2014, the European Parliament came forward with a bold proposal to amend the Commission’s original draft and put the ball firmly in the Council of the EU’s court. As the Council finalises its own proposal, a picture of what the new framework will look like is starting to emerge.
On 12 March 2014, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of the European Commission’s data protection reform with 621 votes for, 10 against, and 22 abstentions for the proposed General Data Protection Regulation. The vote is significant because it confirms the approval of the European Parliament, one of the required participants in the s0-calle “trilogue” process along with the Commission and the Council, which will not change even if the composition of the Parliament changes following the European elections in May.
Data Protection Day in Europe, 28 January 2014, saw the announcement by EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding of a more precise timetable for the adoption of the EU’s data protection reform package, comprising a Regulation governing general data protection and a Directive governing the use of personal data in the area of law enforcement and crime. The Council of the EU will agree upon a formal negotiating mandate by the end of June 2014, with a view to inter-institutional negotiations concluding by the end of 2014.
Jan Albrecht, the rapporteur for the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, released a draft report last month with key proposals to amend the European Commission’s proposed Regulation on data protection. The report includes a total of 350 amendments to the original proposal. Highlights of the 215-page report include the following:
Commissioner Reding says right to be forgotten must be balanced with other rights. European Parliament Committee says regulation should be a minimum, calling for class actions and expanded extra-territoriality.
The network neutrality debate in the U.S. has moved to the appeal courts as the 2010 FCC Order, which becomes effective on Nov. 20, awaits review. Meanwhile, two E.U. developments presage more regulatory steps forward. The result is movement away from the European Commission’s wait-and-see communique announced just last April.