from the that's-awkward dept
As we've noted, the EU Data Protection Regulation has seen some of the fiercest lobbying in the history of the European Union. That's because key US Internet companies are worried that stricter controls on taking personal data out of the EU might adversely affect their business models, which are largely based on using that data quite freely.
The human rights organization Access has been following this closely, and has made several freedom of information requests to both the US and EU authorities in an attempt to find out who exactly has been trying to weaken the Regulation and how. A recent Access blog post revealed that as well as many heavily-redacted documents, one interesting email was provided in its entirety:
The email is between staff working at the [National Telecommunications and Information Administration] of the [US] Department of Commerce. The email makes reference to the drafting of one of the lobby documents the Obama administration produced to influence the outcome of the data protection reform package (read EDRi’s analysis on the paper here). This is one of the many documents which likely contributed to a diluting of the Data Protection Regulation even before the proposal had been made public.
That's pretty shocking since, if true, it means that one of the most important departments of the European Commission, headed by the senior politician Cecilia Malmström, was actively working to weaken the proposed Regulation. According to Access:
The email indicates that Commissioner Malmström and/or her cabinet had been sharing information with the U.S. Mission in the E.U., including appropriate times to publish the lobby document, information about internal politics within the Commission, and concerns about how the proposal for a Data Protection Directive could conflict with E.U. and U.S. Law Enforcement interests.
For many who have been following the E.U. privacy reform debate closely, this trans-Atlantic cooperation was an open secret. However, until now, it has not been possible to demonstrate DG [Directorate-General] Home's maneuvers. Beyond the implications for the Data Protection Reform, the contents of the acquired document give cause for concern about Ms. Malmström’s suitability for leading EU negotiations with the USA on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), given that she has recently been chosen E.U. Commissioner-designate for Trade.
That last comment refers to the fact that Malmström, the current head of the department involved, DG Home, and thus with ultimate responsibility for her staff's actions, has been proposed as the new EU commissioner for trade, who would therefore take over the negotiation of TAFTA/TTIP from Karel De Gucht. Naturally, the possibility that her department was colluding with the US side to undermine data protection in the EU would not inspire confidence in her for this new role.
As part of her appointment process as trade commissioner, Malmström was questioned by Members of the European Parliament during a three-hour session on Monday. As well as being asked about key issues like corporate sovereignty -- she said that she won't take it out of CETA, but doesn't exclude the possibility of removing ISDS from TTIP -- she was also challenged on the allegations from Access, and replied as follows:
I have read those allegations; I totally reject them. I have always defended the European data protection proposals internally and externally. These are based on misconception or on lies and I think I have shown to this Parliament and other committees that I can negotiate with the United States tough agreements, where we stand up for European values, and I will certainly continue to do so. So I totally reject false allegations based on alleged leaked emails. I have always stood up for this formally, publicly and in all informal discussions.
Access has now replied to her statements (pdf), pointing out:
You have systematically refused to comment on "these allegations" from "a leaked email". The document in question, referenced as "JN 656", is neither an allegation nor a leak. It was legally acquired by Access on July 14, 2014, through a freedom of information request.
Access then went on:
The clear implication of your statement is that the email in question is not genuine. We therefore demand an immediate clarification: Are you accusing Access or the US Department of Commerce of having falsified a document?
Although it seems likely that Malmström will be confirmed as the new trade commissioner, it also looks like this story will rumble on for a while yet (pdf).