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'One size fits all' EU data law would undermine rights, says Clarke

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New European data protection law proposals risk compromising freedoms and security, UK Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has said. He said that he opposed a 'one size fits all' approach to European data protection law.

"A preoccupation with imposing a single, inflexible, codified data protection regime on the whole of the European Union, regardless of the different cultures and different legal systems, carries with it serious risks," Clarke said in a speech to the British Chamber of Commerce in Brussels.

"Let us keep the broad principles of the existing Directive and better understand the 27 laws we all in our nation states have, rather than setting out to create in detail an additional 28th radically different, and artificial new set of laws," Clarke said.

The European Commission plans to update the EU's Data Protection Directive but Clarke said that that the plans risked undermining some basic rights.

"Rather than improving privacy, safety and freedom, there is a real risk that some of these ideas might accidentally undermine them," Clarke said.

"Our experience in the United Kingdom and most of the other Member States is that security, and freedom, and privacy are all possible, and that all our citizens want to see all three," Clarke said.

Clarke said that it was a "false choice" to choose between security, freedom and privacy and said he wanted the EU to adopt a "flexible regime".

Clarke criticised EU plans that would force website operators to delete user details, creating a 'right to be forgotten'. Earlier this year Viviane Reding, Vice President of the European Commission, said she wanted users to have the right to withdraw their consent to companies using their data. Reding said companies should prove that they need to keep customers' data.

Clarke said he was unsure how the plans could work in practice and said it would create "an unachievable standard" that would disappoint the public. He said the plans could censor publically available information and that it would adversely affect businesses and public sector organisations.

"A whole range of vital services that consumers rely upon critically depend, in turn, on the availability of data," Clarke said.

"Without reasonably portable health records for example, it’s hard to see how medical services can operate sensibly. Without appropriately regulated data on credit histories, then loans and mortgages might in future be very limitedly available – and might even only be available to the very wealthy," Clarke said.

Plans to tighten the access to data for law enforcement agencies could affect the way Governments tackle terrorism and serious crime, he warned.

"If we are to be successful in protecting the safety of our peoples against very sophisticated enemies, then we need to be nimble in using information properly and technology to detect, disrupt and prosecute those who would do us harm," Clarke said in his speech.

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