It’s not like the citizens of Europe are taking to the streets to defend their right to keep their private data private. They are probably not quite sure who to defend themself against. But an increasing number of academics and intellectuals across the EU are now lining up as the frontline in the upcoming battle of electronic consumer data. The computer industry lures with huge national income and millions of new jobs if they just get complete access to the information about your online activity stored in hundreds of large databases around the world.
“The fact that so many came to sign the position actually shows that the situation is serious.”
Leading academics across Europe are signing an online petition to support the European Commission’s draft data protection regulation in protest at industry lobbying to weaken it. So far, more than 80 professors from computer science, law, economics and business administration disciplines have joined. The industry’s hunt for profit could seriously undermine people’s trust in companies who want to use their personal data, they warn, pointing out the financial risk involved.
The outraging professors refers to a study conducted by the US based firm, Boston Consulting Group, that states profit potential could be seriously undermined if people do not trust companies who want to use their personal data. The group estimates €440 billion in 2020 in the EU alone is at risk if the industry fails to establish a trusted flow of data.
The computer industry’s lobbyists, on the other hand, are waving with surveys that says the companies will generate $1.1 trillion in revenue in 2015, while creating nearly 14 million new jobs worldwide.
It may seem like the two conflicting parties are living in two separate worlds, (and to some degree they do), but soon we will all be united in one big global network called “The Cloud“.
Currently, companies can process personal data without client consent if they can argue that they have a legitimate interest in the use of that data. So far, unfortunately, the term “legitimate interest” leaves plenty of room for interpretation: When is an interest legitimate and when is it not?
You see, there are two things going on here:
Writing Their Own Laws
First, the development of what the geeks call cloud computing, which means that data is stored on random servers around the globe instead of your own hard disk. This new technology is expected to change the whole computer business radically, making it possible to access and analyze large amount of information anywhere in the world.
Second, the EU commission is about to finalize an update of the 18-year-old directive that aims to bring the law in line with the latest technologies. And this is where the privacy issue comes in.
Some EU parliamentarians suggest that anonymized, pseudonomized and encrypted data should generally not be covered by the data protection regulation. They argue that such data is not “personal” any more. This misconception is dangerous.
The right to be forgotten and fines for organisations that mishandle personal data are among the novelties some experts believe will ensure greater privacy rights for individuals, the EUobserver.com writes. The protection of personal data is also guaranteed under the EU charter of fundamental rights.
But pro-industry groups are pushing amendments into the regulation to help shape parliamentary committee opinion reports. Some of the amendments weakened the commission’s draft by removing safeguards and introducing terminology that is more open to interpretation in favour of industry.
The reports are then passed onto the civil liberties committee who get the final say in April before it goes to vote in the plenary.
In February, the LobbyPlag website exposed dozens of euro-deputies who copy-pasted industry proposed amendments directly into the regulation.
The practice, while not uncommon by EU lawmakers when drafting legislation, have convinced many of the academics to sign the petition in an attempt to shift the debate away from the industry’s view that the regulation would harm innovation and competition. Adding that the uncertainty over data protection itself is what prevents some companies from adopting cloud computing services today.
A Serious Situation
The Data Protection in Europe’ site was launched in February by four German academics and an Austrian colleague.
“They decided they had to do something against EU lobbying on the draft regulation,” says Anne Grauenhorst, who helps manage the site for the Centre for Advanced Security Research Darmstadt (Cased).
The academics are spread among 19 member states while others have signed on from Switzerland and Norway. More are joining, according to the EUobserver.com.
“If you had asked me last week, if we would have 80, I would have told you that certainly I would have liked it but I wouldn’t have made any promises,” Dr. Kai Rannenberg, professor at Goethe-University in Frankfurt/Main, says.
Rannenberg said the intensity of lobbying in Brussels to weaken the regulation by the industry prompted them to create the site.
“The fact that so many came to sign the position actually shows that the situation is serious,” Ranneberg notes.
In many articles, the current draft from the European Commission sets only vague goals. For further details, it establishes the European Commission itself as the institution that would later define details through ‘delegated’ and ‘implementing’ acts. This plan would put the European Commission into a position of power that does not correspond to the European constitutional requirements.
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