Europe to Consider Creating Data Protection Regulator

As the European Parliament prepares to overhaul the Continent’s data protection laws, one legislator introduced a bill Wednesday that would create a new agency to enforce a series of measures giving Internet users greater control of their online information.
If approved, the proposal would replace an advisory panel to the European Commission with a regulator with the power to make decisions for the bloc’s 27 members and levy fines of up to 2 percent of a company’s revenue.
“I think my proposal reflects the majority opinion in Parliament, which is that we want to protect the online rights of consumers in order to help the digital economy flourish, not to control it,” said Jan Philipp Albrecht, who is the main sponsor in Parliament of the stricter data protection measures.
Those measures would prohibit the use of a range of standard Web tracking and profiling practices companies use to produce targeted advertising unless consumers give their explicit prior consent.
Companies like Google and Facebook already use many of these practices — vital to their business models — but they have run afoul of individual European privacy regulators, many of whom bemoan the fact that they are not able to act in concert to bring these companies to heel.
The bill would also grant European consumers a fundamental new right: data portability, or the right to easily transfer one’s personal posts, photos and video from one online service site to another.
The measures, as well as the creation of the data privacy regulator, were originally proposed by Viviane Reding, the European justice commissioner, last year. The lower house of Parliament is set to enter negotiations with representatives of individual E.U. members to rewrite the bloc’s privacy regulations, which date to 1995.
Mr. Albrecht’s proposal on Wednesday was quickly condemned by the technology industry.
A coalition of U.S., Asian and European businesses and advertisers criticized the plan, which would give Europeans much stronger legal protections to control their online identities than people elsewhere.
The ad hoc group, called the Industry Coalition for Data Protection, said the proposal would stifle the Web economy in Europe by undermining the ad-driven financing that makes possible most of the free, popular Web sites on the Internet.
The group, which includes the American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union, said Mr. Albrecht’s recommendation, compiled after nearly a year of parliamentary hearings on the issue, did not take into account concerns expressed by industry.
The draft report “missed an opportunity to reconcile effective privacy safeguards with rules protecting the conduct of business — both fundamental rights under the E.U. charter,” the group said.
Mr. Albrecht, a member of the Green Party from Hamburg, said during an interview that he had gone out of his way to address business concerns by relaxing paperwork and other administrative burdens proposed by Ms. Reding.
“What you are seeing here is a gut reaction from the industry group,” he said.
Mr. Albrecht’s proposal would replace Europe’s existing privacy panel, an advisory group of regulators to the commission called the Article 29 Working Party, with what would in effect be the power to set technical standards for the Web advertising industry, said Kimon Zorbas, a vice president in Brussels at IAB Europe, an association that represents Internet advertisers, marketers and analytics firms.
Mr. Zorbas said Mr. Albrecht’s proposal would impose unrealistic demands on companies to obtain prior consent from consumers, and to respond to millions of individual complaints, before collecting even simple, anonymous forms of Web data critical to the industry.
“This proposal is much stricter than the already challenging proposal we received last year from the European Commission,” Mr. Zorbas said. “There are a lot of dramatic things being proposed here that would have significant, damaging effects on industry.”
The full Parliament is expected to vote on the proposal in April, and a final agreement with the upper house is not expected until later this year.
The E.U. justice ministers, who are acting as the upper legislative chamber on the data protection legislation, are preparing to begin their own deliberations on the proposals under the guidance of Alan Shatter, the Irish justice minister. They will meet in Dublin on Jan. 18 to discuss the issue.
Mr. Shatter, through a spokeswoman, Anita Toolan, said obtaining a political agreement on the outlines of the legislation was a priority for Ireland, which holds the Union’s rotating presidency through June.
“Substantial resources are being devoted to reach political agreement on key aspects of the package,” he said.
But the key issues — prior consent, a so-called right to be forgotten and fines on violators — are thorny, and agreement is not ensured. While some countries, like Germany, favor strict privacy laws and are supportive, others, like Ireland and Britain, tend to be more sensitive to business concerns.

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