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One EU data protection authority to rule them all, under new proposal

Jennifer Baker | May 28, 2014
A proposal for a unified approach to policing European Union data was released Tuesday, but member states are likely to bicker over it.

A proposal for a unified approach to policing European Union data was released Tuesday, but member states are likely to bicker over it.

The new law would apply to all companies operating in the European Union, no matter where they are based, and authorities would have the power to impose multimillion-dollar fines on any company that misuses Europeans' data.

Home Affairs ministers from all 28 EU member states will meet June 6 to try to come to an agreement on which authorities should handle complaints about the misuse of data when the companies and complainants are in different countries. But Dutch Data Protection Commissioner Jacob Kohnstamm said he doubts they will reach even partial agreement due to in-fighting between member states. Once agreed at the EU level, the regulation would not be implemented at the national level for another two years, giving businesses time to comply.

The text released Tuesday shows that the current compromise proposal is for a two-tier system: a local data protection authority in the country of the complainant and a lead authority in the country of the company. This in itself is not new, but some member states have complained about the plan, forcing the Council to come up with tighter rules about which authority is involved and when. Some member states fear that they could become subject to data laws from another country.

A local supervisory authority will deal with "local cases" when both complainant and company are in the same country. They will also have the right to make decisions on amicable settlements if only one person is involved, as well as the possibility of submitting a draft decision to the lead authority if they feel strongly about a case.

Under the new plan, local data-protection authorities will also have four weeks to object to a decision by a lead authority and the matter will then be referred to the European Data Protection Board.

"The lead authority cannot adopt a 'go-it-alone' attitude but needs to cooperate with the local authority and must, where appropriate, draw up a draft decision on the measure to be taken and submit it to all authorities concerned for their opinion and take due account of their views," the proposal says.

This tightening of the rules may appease countries like Germany, which wants its own stringent privacy rules to set the standard and not be watered down by regulators in other countries.

Meanwhile, although some companies have welcomed the plan to have a single point of contact rather than comply with regulators in 28 different countries, John Higgins, director general of Digital Europe, a trade body whose members include Microsoft and Apple, said he was concerned that "the new rules will remain as fragmented as they are today, but it will cost more to comply."


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