Viviane Reding, who arrived early in Dublin, met no fewer than seven home affairs ministers(1) to reassure them about her draft regulation aimed at improving personal data protection in the European Union. The justice commissioner defends her reform vigorously in the face of national reluctance, while the European Parliament may be even more ambitious.

These bilateral meetings were held on 17 January. The next day, the subject was the focus of the informal meeting by the 27 home affairs ministers organised by Irish Minister Alan Shatter, on behalf of the Irish EU Presidency.

Each country outlined its concerns. Sweden, for example, traditionally a country of transparency, is concerned about continuing to put public documents containing personal information on the internet. Estonia wants to conserve its databases on criminal records. German Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, a member of Bavaria's Social Christian Union, fears he may have to ask the powerful Bavaria to reconsider its regional laws and twin data protection authority system, one for the public sector and the other for the private sector.

For Reding, there is no reason for concern: Article 6 of the draft regulation permits national authorities to collect data if this is in the public interest or in compliance with a legal obligation. Addressing the ministers' concerns on citizens' "right to be forgotten" on the internet, for example, she said it would not apply at the expense of freedom of expression, which is why there is an exemption for the press.


Over and above these national concerns, the objective of this informal Council was to debate three specific points: the possibility to exempt households (as at present under the 1995 directive on data protection), the extent of the right to be forgotten and the severity of fines on companies that infringe the future EU rules. Europolitics information society learned that Shatter regretted claims by the press that he is determined to "drown" the regulation by limiting the scope of these three key provisions, knowing that the regulation is not to the liking of Facebook, Microsoft or Google, which have their European headquarters in Dublin.

While Reding applauds Ireland's determination to obtain a political agreement on these three points in March, she nevertheless defended her proposal.

She said the exemption for households "makes sense" for "everyday activities" like sending e-mail. But the 2003 Lindqvist...

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