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Data watchdogs write then bury transparency plan

We'd love to tell you about it. But we won't

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European privacy guardians committed themselves to transparency and openness last week - but haven't gotten round to telling anyone yet.

The Article 29 Working Party, which is made up of representatives from all of Europe's data protection authorities, had formally adopted a declaration of transparency at its meeting last Wednesday and Thursday, said sources close to the group.

They've been talking about an urgent need to communicate their arcane activities more effectively for some years. They fear that people's liberties are being whittled away by European governments that are eagerly applying rapidly evolving technologies for the purpose of crime detection, law enforcement and social sorting, but are doing so with little regard for people's privacy.

But today, a week on, the paper has still not been published. The Register understands that it makes reference to the urgent need for the Working Party to make its communications fast and effective.

A summary of the proceedings said it had merely "developed a strategy for enhancing the transparency of its work" and "agreed on ways to enhance transparency and communication".

In the days before the meeting, the secretariat of the Working Party at the European Commission refused to release its agenda: "The draft agenda for the meetings are also only available to its members," said one of the secretariat staff, who subsequently said they were unable to answer enquiries.

The declaration of transparency, which had already been distributed among members before the meeting, is thought to contain a promise that the committee's meeting agendas and rough minutes will be shared with the public.

It was a revision of a similar paper published in 2003, but the document was also not available. Opinions on pressing PNR and SWIFT, issues of significance for transatlantic relations in the "war on terror", were not on the Working Party's website, neither was another on "binding corporate rules", which might have something to do with SWIFT, or so we must deduce ourselves from the Spartan summary.

An opinion on electronic health records has appeared within the last two days, but other matters discussed in the meeting get only cursory references: "The WP discussed the protection of children's privacy with a view to establishing a common view on the issues at stake," it declared without further elaboration.

The transparency initiative had evolved from last November's joint declaration of information commissioners, an annual announcement of near religious importance to privacy wonks.

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