Data Protection Lobbyotomy Part 1: Influencing the Dutch government

By EDRi · February 24, 2016

The new European data protection regulation is the most lobbied piece of legislation in Europe because the subject is very important and touches upon almost every aspect of our daily lives. Therefore, Bits of Freedom used the Dutch freedom of information act to ask the government to publicise all the lobby documents they received on this new law. We published these documents on the Bits of Freedom website, together with our analysis, in a series of blogs. Which parties lobby? What do they want? What does that mean for you? We have now translated these 9 blogs into English for the EDRi-gram. This is part 1.

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The European privacy law is huge
Information plays a central role in our society. Every action you take leaves an information trail related to you personally: personal data. Meanwhile, almost every company and organisation works with information and those are often also personal data. Ongoing digitisation only increases the amount of personal data processed. This makes rules on the processing of personal data incredibly important.
In Brussels, there have been negotiations for years about the new data protection regulation, which aims to replace all the national privacy legislation and to enhance and harmonise data protection levels. It won’t come as a surprise that this new law is big and important. The 201 page law touches the lives of millions of people and all kinds of companies and organisations.

A lobbyist feeding frenzy
The law was therefore a feast for lobbyists. Even before the European Commission proposed it in 2012, US-American companies were making lobby phone calls to Commission employees and using other channels to exert pressure. Former European Commissioner Viviane Reding called it the most aggressive lobbying campaign she had ever encountered.
Afterwards, the European Parliament was flooded with the largest lobby offensive in its political history. The website lobbyplag (an initiative by Europe v. Facebook) showed that some of the amendments proposed by lobby groups were copied word for word by European politicians. Apart from that, ‘astroturf’ groups were active: organisations that claimed to be independent organisations, like the European Privacy Association were caught breaking lobby transparency rules and had to change their entry in the lobby register. Despite all of this, Members of the European Parliament eventually adopted a text which would offer citizens more protections against unfair data processing.

Unfortunately, representatives of national governments took a very different approach and left few of those protections in their proposed text. In particular, they aimed to undermine the protection of citizens in the context of profiling and big data.

The lobby-freedom of information request
We were therefore very curious about the lobby offensive at the level of government. So using the Dutch freedom of information act (called Wet Openbaarheid van Bestuur), we asked for all the lobby documents on this subject at the ministries of Economic Affairs, Security and Justice and the Netherlands permanent representation to the EU (that negotiates on behalf of the Dutch government in the EU). They will be called EA, S&J and Permrep in the remainder of the blogs.

The Lobby-tomy
These lobby documents were then sent to us by the Dutch government and we gladly published them on our website. They show what kind of organisations have tried to influence the Dutch government and what their positions are. In these blogs we provide some insight. What kind of organisations are lobbying? What are the most important themes that constantly surface? What kind of arguments are used?
This way, we try to give an insight about the lobby that took place behind the scenes. We obviously don’t have all the information. For example, we lack information about phone calls or what has been said in-between meetings. This document deals with the lobby documents only, which also contain emails. We invite anyone to read along as we go on.

This introduction will be followed by a series of blogs that have been published on our website. These blogs will be included in the upcoming EDRi—grams. In these blogs, we will at times refer to lobby documents that are in a database on our website (we will also specify the URL so you can read them yourselves – although some of the documents are in Dutch). That database contains a list with all the lobbying parties and all the documents they have sent. Our next article will be about the most important topics addressed in the lobby documents.

For the series of blogs and documents, see the Bits of Freedom website (in Dutch)

Floris Kreiken, “Herrie in de Europese privacykeuken,” Bits of Freedom website (15.06.2015)

“Commission proposes a comprehensive reform of the data protection rules,” European Commission press release (25.01.2012)

European Digital Rights and Access, “Data Protection Lobbying,” #EUdataP – issue 03

Thomas Brewster, “Facebook Lobbies Brussels In Earnest On EU Data Privacy Proposals,” TechWeek Europe (08.11.2012)

Matt Warman, “EU Privacy regulations subject to ‘unprecedented lobbying’,” The Telegraph (08.02.2012)

William Long, “Significant impact of new EU data protection regulation on financial services,” Global Banking & Finance Review (18.04.2014)

Glyn Moody, “How Lobbyists’ Changes to EU Data Protection Regulation Were Copied Word-For-Word Into Proposed Amendments,” Techdirt (12.02.2013)

Complaint forces European Privacy Association to confirm Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo are corporate backers

Janneke Slöetjes, “Drie gaten in nieuwe EU Privacywet,” Bits of Freedom website (in Dutch, 12.03. 2014)

Floris Kreiken, “Herrie in de Europese privacykeuken,” Bits of Freedom website (in Dutch, 15.06.2015)

Floris Kreiken, “Echte (Big) Databescherming vraagt om goede regels rond profilering,” Bits of Freedom website (in Dutch, 17.9.2015)

(Contribution by Floris Kreiken, Bits of Freedom)