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EU privacy watchdog laments weakened privacy proposals

Council of ministers 'watering down' protection

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The European Union's Council of Ministers has weakened proposals to overhaul EU privacy laws and left people with fewer protections for their personal information, the privacy watchdog for EU institutions has warned.

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) has said that the Council's revisions to European Parliament and Commission plans to update electronic privacy law leave citizens less protected than before. "In quite a few cases [Parliament and Commission] amendments offering safeguards to the citizens are deleted or substantially weakened," said the EDPS opinion. "As a result, the level of protection offered to individuals in [the Council-amended version of the plans] is substantially weakened."

The European Commission's Privacy and Electronic Communications (PEC) Directive is under review, a process which has involved the Council amending proposals made by the Commission and the Parliament.

EDPS Peter Hustinx said that he had made suggestions about how privacy rights could be strengthened, and that not only had they been ignored but the Council had watered down existing plans.

The EDPS ensures that EU bodies comply with data protection law and provides advice on privacy and data protection issues.

The new revisions to the PEC Directive include the creation of a security breach notification law, which would force companies which lose personal information to make that loss publicly known.

In an opinion last year, Hustinx said that the application of this should be extended beyond the planned telecoms service providers and should also apply to those providing services over the internet.

"Citizens will expect such a system to apply not only to their Internet access providers, but also to their on-line banks and on-line pharmacies," he said. "The full benefits of security breach notification will be best realized if the legal framework is set right from the outset. To this end, the Parliament and the Council will need to meet the challenge of determining the proper standard setting forth the conditions for notification and ensuring that the appropriate processes are put into effect."

Hustinx also backed the Parliament's proposal that gives consumers associations the ability to take action against organisations that breach the Directive's provisions.

One area in which Hustinx disagrees with all three EU bodies is in the plan to collect and monitor internet traffic for security purposes. The EDPS said that this was "unnecessary".

"In the EDPS view, such a provision may be subject to risk of abuse, especially if adopted in a form that does not include the necessary data protection safeguards," said an EDPS statement.

See: The opinion (20-page/35KB pdf)

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