EU Negotiators Point to Potential Block On Data Protection Regulation Agreement

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By Stephen Gardner

June 24 — If European Union justice ministers don't agree at a summit in October on a position on a draft law on the protection of data processed by law enforcement agencies, they risk jeopardizing the completion of the EU's data protection reform by the end of 2015, officials involved in the reform effort said June 24.

Speaking after a first meeting of negotiators from EU institutions to finalize the EU's draft data protection regulation, Félix Braz, Luxembourg's justice minister, said it would be “impossible” to complete the overall reform without agreement in October on data processing for law enforcement.

Braz was referring to a draft EU directive on the processing of personal data for law enforcement. The directive was proposed in January 2012 alongside the draft EU data protection regulation, which will govern general data processing and will replace the 1995 EU Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC).

EU justice ministers June 15 agreed on their position on the regulation, triggering final inter-institutional negotiations with the European Parliament and European Commission, the EU's executive arm, to complete the law.

Justice ministers, meeting in the Council of the EU, which represents the governments of the EU member states, still haven't finalized a position on the law enforcement directive.

Nevertheless, negotiators on the data protection regulation remained optimistic that they would be able to finalize a final draft by the end of 2015.

First Trialogue 

The issue surfaced after the first trialogue meeting on the draft data protection regulation because the European Parliament insisted that the regulation and the directive on data processing for law enforcement be adopted as a package.

Speaking alongside Braz, Claude Moraes, the chair of the European Parliament's Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE), said that a basic aim of the Parliament was to ensure that data protection standards for individuals don't drop below those contained in the 1995 directive.

Consequently, the data protection regulation and the law enforcement directive should be adopted side by side, Moraes said, to ensure the two laws have compatible scopes and to ensure that provisions that might undermine the regulation aren't inserted into the directive.

A regulation is a uniform law with common application across the EU, while a directive is a set of minimum standards that must be adopted by member states.

Jan Philipp Albrecht, the German Green lawmaker who is the European Parliament's lead negotiator on the regulation, said “I don't see there is a real danger” of privacy protections dropping below the 1995 directive level, but he added that negotiators need to “carefully make sure” that a minimum level of protection is maintained.

Law Enforcement Processing 

Braz said he expected EU justice ministers to agree on the processing for law enforcement directive in October. Luxembourg will hold the presidency of the Council of the EU from July 1 to Dec. 31 and will chair ministers' meetings.

Braz added that Luxembourg was also in favor of the directive and regulation being adopted as a package by the end of 2015.

The directive would set privacy protections for EU citizens whose data are processed in relation to the prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of criminal offenses.

The Article 29 Working Party of EU member state data protection officials criticized the draft directive in March 2013 over issues such as the processing of the data of nonsuspects.

The European Parliament adopted its position on the directive in March 2014, at the same time as it adopted its position on the data protection regulation.

Positive Assessment 

On other issues related to the finalization of the data protection regulation, officials said they were confident of reaching agreement by the end of 2015.

The first trialogue meeting held June 24 didn't cover substantive issues. However, officials said they had agreed on basic principles and had adopted a working plan for the negotiations, though this wasn't made public.

Albrecht said finalization of the regulation by the end of 2015 was “achieveable and realistic” and said there was “quite a lot of agreement already.”

The commission's lead official on the file, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Věra Jourová, said that “on the fundamentals we all see eye to eye” but that agreement would need to be found on issues such as consent and data processing that is incompatible with the original purpose for which the data were collected.

European Parliament spokeswoman Rikke Uldall told Bloomberg BNA June 24 that the next trialogue meeting date hadn't been fixed, but she said negotiators would meet again “before summer,” meaning before the traditional August governmental activity break.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Gardner in Brussels at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Katie W. Johnson at kjohnson@bna.com