Consult, Divide and Rule?

July 19, 2009

One way of ensuring that you can do absolutely anything that you want, while giving the impression of consultation, is to ask everybody and their dog for their opinion on something suitably vague. I am sure I cannot be the only one who does it. In fact, I know I am not alone because I can cite a good few instances where my view (which was quite obviously right, of course) was undermined by the actual decision-maker asking a wide range of ignoramuses for views and citing their facile views as support for doing what said blinkered decision-maker wanted to do in the first place. And that just covers use of the TV remote at Christmas.

I have just posted an item about the latest consultation on data protection, specifically personal data, being carried out by the EU Commission. According to the excellent {Datonomy blog:}, the EU Commission ‘seeks views on three very broad issues:
• new challenges for data protection, in particular in the light of new technologies and globalisation;
• whether the current legal framework meets these challenges; and
• what future action is needed to address such challenges’.

These are broad issues indeed. I confess that in discovering even these broad issues Claire Walker at Datonomy has found information that I cannot. The so-called press release on the Commission site gives risible information. (I am waiting to hear back from them with more.) The Commission site that asks for responses states only that the objective of the consultation is ‘to obtain views on the new challenges for personal data protection in order to maintain an effective and comprehensive legal framework to protect individual’s personal data within the EU’.

The exercise seems to anticipate that the EU citizen will put forward his or her views, whether through organisations or as individuals. But there’s no meat for any serious commentator to chew on. It’s likely that all sorts of people will feel able to tell the Commission that there are problems and that personal data is very important – big deal. But I’d like to see some hint of what the EU Commission are thinking of doing – don’t really believe that there is no agenda at all.

There’s no doubt that a closed consultation, where defined proposals are set out and the question might as well be ‘we are doing this, what are you going to do about it?’, is not right for a situation like this. There needs to be more room for manoeuvre than that on a big topic like personal data. But we do need more than the identification of issues that are so broad that the question might as well be ‘personal data – what d’ya think?’