The lobby-tomy 7: Not all roads lead to privacy
Within the privacy world, different schools of thought exist. Connecting different viewpoints to a seemingly positive ideology is also sales technique.
The new European data protection regulation is the most lobbied piece of legislation thus far. This is because the subject is very important and touches upon almost every aspect of our daily lives. Therefore EDRi member Bits of Freedom used the Dutch freedom of information act to ask the government to publish all the lobby documents they received on this new law. Bits of Freedom published these documents on their website with their analysis in a series of blogs. What parties lobby? What do they want? What does that mean for you? These nine articles are now translated into English for the EDRi-gram. This is part 7.
If one school of thought has successfully been put in the limelight, it is the “risk-based approach”. It means that when policy makers formulate obligations for industry, they should take the identifiable risks of data processing into account. Strict obligations should only accompany identified large risks. But that can’t be an excuse to create a lower level of protection for people.
If we read the lobby letters correctly, one of the most important offices behind this approach is the ”Centre for Information Policy Leadership” of Hunton en Williams “LLP”. Although the term is older, they launched a “risk based approach framework” in January 2014, after which the subject has resurfaced repeatedly.
The data protection regulation creates new obligations for organisations that plan to process a certain quantity of data. An organisation is for example required to do a “privacy impact assessment” before processing data, in which it will have to evaluate the consequences of the processing for people’s privacy. In some cases, the processing should be notified to the data protection authority. Apart from that, organisations should have a data protection officer, who handles supervision of all privacy related issues internally. Furthermore, organisations are required to notify data breaches to anyone connected to the data.
Companies are not happy about this. We already mentioned in a previous blog that these are the themes that have been lobbied on the most. They say, briefly: allow us to only fulfill those obligations if it’s to mitigate large and already identified risks.
It isn’t surprising that many of the “usual suspects” support this risk based approach. TechAmerica Europe, an organisation that represented the interests of European technology companies “with American parentage”, strongly supported this. Banks also welcome such an approach, as shown in their email to the Dutch embassy to the EU – the so-called “permanent representation”. Thuiswinkel.org, a Dutch e-commerce company, says in an email to the Dutch Ministry of Justice: “The current reforms are not adequate enough in the eyes of Thuiswinkel.org, in particular because the proposals lack a ‘risk-based’ approach.” Even the Royal Academy for Sciences seems to be a proponent of this approach.
To strengthen their arguments, different parties use “commitment and consistency”. The trick with this is that people like to present one unambiguous image of themselves. So people will want to act in ways that are congruent with their statements. Therefore, the Centre for Policy Leadership uses statements of influential politicians from the group of people they are trying to influence, who have been positive about the risk based approach.
In a letter by the Centre for Information Policy Leadership to the Ministry of Justice European Commissioner Viviane Reding is quoted as a proponent of the risk based approach, just like the Council of Ministers that the letter aims to convince. You were in favor of a risk based approach right? Then you should also agree to our demands. The former European Data Protection Supervisor Peter Hustinx once made positive statements about this approach, and these are quoted quite happily in a letter by the Industry Coalition for Data Protection (ICDP) to the Ministry of Justice:
“ICDP strongly agrees with the European Data Protection Supervisor Peter Hustinx that data protection legislation is most effective when it follows a risk-based approach.”
A risk based approach can’t be an excuse to evade important obligations, as the committee of privacy watchdogs in Europe stated. A well described liability based on agreed criteria can assure that companies keep privacy protection in mind at an early stage of data processing or planning. Those criteria should obviously be proportionate, so a sole trader that serves only fifty customers per year shouldn’t be required to send a privacy impact assessment to the data protection authority every week or to hire a data protection officer (not that anyone ever suggested that, it has to be said). But we should also be wary of abuse. For example, Digital Europe, a lobby organisation for digital businesses, wants to make sure that companies can decide for themselves what constitutes risk. That would make evading supervision very easy.
Privacy schools of thought
Connecting your viewpoints to clear schools of thought can help your cause. That’s why more schools of though than the “risk based approach” are mentioned in the lobby documents. Vodafone wants a more “principle based” approach, which means they want more flexibility. Yet other companies mention the “harm based approach”, the “use based approach”, the “precautionary based approach” and others.
Whatever school of thought one prefers, no one can currently predict the risks well, particularly in a world of “big data”. What we do know is that more data will be collected and will be increasingly used. This makes every choice we make now only more important for privacy protection in the future.
To be continued
Want to continue reading about this? On the Bits of Freedom website, you can find all the lobby documents and the analysis. The next part will be about the anti-fraud argument.
Lobby-tomy series (only in Dutch)
(Contribution by Floris Kreiken, EDRi member Bits of Freedom, The Netherlands)