Internet gossip has NOWT to do with data protection, EU Commish

Justice bod's story shows worrying lack of knowledge

Comment Europe’s new data chief has taken a leaf out of fellow European Commissioner “H Dot” Oettinger’s book, delivering a cast-iron “no shit, Sherlock” statement about things people write online.

The EU’s new Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova was speaking ahead of a meeting of all the EU’s justice ministers about data protection reform. Oettinger famously told journalists that he “goes on the internet every day”, leading many to question whether the current crop of commissioners is really up to the job.

Jourova did seem to grasp some of the political difficulties she will face in agreeing a “one size fits all” Data Protection Regulation, despite coming out with the phrase “people should not believe everything they read on the internet” on Wednesday.

“Some member states say they will accept the regulation, but then we will have to push hard on implementation. This is the less glossy side of the Commission. Sometimes we like new rules to make ourselves look famous, but there is day-to-day work as well,” she said.

She’s not wrong. At Thursday’s meeting many national ministers pushed back hard against the regulation.

However, Jourova's poor understanding of the technical elements of some data protection rules was thrown into stark relief as she talked about her own past.

“If I was a private person I would avail [myself] of the right to be forgotten, but I’m not so I must cope with it,” she said referring to a case in 2006 when she was falsely accused of accepting a 2 million koruna bribe.

The so-called right to be forgotten, which has been in the spotlight since a European Court of Justice ruling in May, has nothing to do with false information – it relates only to outdated or irrelevant, but perfectly accurate, data.

Jourova also spoke about malicious gossip and smear campaigns when discussing identity theft. Again, these are issues which are obviously close to her heart, but have no legal bearing on the new draft data protection regulation.

If she manages to create consensus between EU states' justice ministers, it will probably not be by force of her legal arguments. EU insiders say that her predecessor Viviane Reding's approach was a stumbling block, so legal arguments may in the end be sidelined by personal politics. ®

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