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Reading Reding: Pouring water on DP draft bill

Just how workable is the Euro commissioner's proposal?

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The UK is, unsurprisingly being much more publicly bullish than - say - Google about the commissioner's proposal, but that didn't stop a Mountain View privacy policy counsel, Marisa Jimenez, from bristling about some of the finer detail laid out in Reding's draft bill.

During her panel session, Jimenez often declined to comment on questions from the floor, preferring to pull faces that seemed to suggest her dissatisfaction with some aspects of the proposal. Sadly she was clearly not comfortable telling us too much about those feelings, however.

It was telling, too, that her colleague, Peter Fleischer, who had been expected to attend the event, was missing in action. One attendee, perhaps slightly unfairly, commented to me that Google does have an awful lot of work to do on the privacy front currently – which perhaps explained his absence.

He did, however, wade in with a blog post. Fleischer echoed Jimenez's earlier comments by expressing his own concerns about the right to be forgotten – a term that he considers to be a political slogan.

"As this debate unfolds, the lack of clarity is raising false expectations. As people read that there will soon be a legal 'right to be forgotten', they are asking DPAs and search engines to delete third-party content about themselves or links to such content.

"I regularly hear requests from people to 'remove all references to me, Mrs X, from the internet'. No law can or should provide such a right, and politicians and DPAs should not mislead them to expect it."

It's just a shame he wasn't present at CPDP to face questions from the floor.

Marc Rotenberg from the Electronic Privacy Information Center was at the event and argued that Google's claim that the right to be forgotten had troubling implications for freedom of expression was "a bit of a perversion".

Now the debate will shift to lobbying by online businesses and national DPAs that are keen to stamp their authoritative opinions on Reding's proposal.

There was no escaping, for example, the palpable disappointment expressed by some important players at the conference who complained bitterly about aspects of the commissioner's proposal that had clearly been watered down since previous drafts.

Christopher Docksey, a director at the European Data Protection Supervisor, highlighted some of the shortfalls.

He told me that the lack of stricter rules for international transfers was regrettable, as was the absence of mandatory power for DP authorities. Worst of all for Docksey was the fact that there was "simply nothing about how you regulate the police access to private data".

Knocking the draft bill into shape is expected to take up to two years, as the European Parliament need to reach an agreement, and there will of course be time for individual nations to argue for or against some of the finer detail contained within the 118-page document (PDF).

Most people I spoke to at CPDP were largely optimistic about the future of data protection law in Europe.

Some at the event argued passionately that it is great the debate had progressed far enough to allow for MEPs and policy wonks to work out exactly how an individual's privacy should be protected online, rather than to discuss if such regulation is actually needed in the first place. And that, for them, is in itself a significant win. ®

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