EU Data Protection Reform and Hypocrisy

January 24, 2012

When, earlier today, I read Viviane Reding’s stirring {speech about data protection reform:}, I am afraid that I was reminded of the material that I had posted a couple of days ago about the latest version of the draft PNR agreement with the USA. That material concerned an {open letter from the Article 29 Working Party:} highlighting certain deficiencies in the agreement from a data protection perspective. Basically, the Article 29 Working Party thinks the agreement is a crock but its open letter steers away from the sort of language that I was tempted to use when reporting their views. I think a fair summary of the Working Party’s view would be that the agreement sells out millions of EU citizens to the US Department of Homeland Security and merely pretends to honour data protection and privacy concerns.

When one part of the European Commission is busy telling us about the importance of paying due regard to the privacy rights of EU citizens (and they will be very busy indeed tomorrow when the DP reform plans are launched) and another part is taking no notice, it looks a lot like hypocrisy. To be fair, in a world where {even the right hand of Paul Daniels does not know what his left hand is doing:}, there is the possibility that some part of the European Commission just hasn’t got the message. But hypocrisy is a better bet.

The EU and hypocrisy both get rather a bad press. I am not an EU basher. In the field of IT law, the Commission has, in my view, a better record than the UK government. That’s especially the case on the competition side but I think it is true too of data protection, where Commissioner’s have generally taken a principled approach. But then I am not here to condemn hypocrisy too strongly either – no parent could live without healthy doses of it and it can be irresistibly attractive. I have not been frightened to embrace it from time to time.

But there is a time and place for hypocrisy. Wouldn’t it be nice if Ms Reding laid great emphasis tomorrow on how all organs of the state, including the Commission, must set an example to the Googles and Amazons of this world? She might acknowledge that the State cannot be trusted and declare it her personal mission to reinvestigate the PNR agreements (all of them). She might promise to add her weight to the too-polite protests of the Article 29 Working Party.

I can dream. And much good will it do me.