1. Taking on myths and misconceptions about European data protection reform


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    Taking on myths and misconceptions about European data protection reform

    Ericsson data protection GDPR - view over Stockholm_3

    There are many myths concerning the European data protection reform flourishing in Brussels. One is particularly damaging if a serious deliberation is to take its course in reaching a progressive data protection regulation in Europe.

    There are some policy advocates and policy makers who are appealing to the egalitarian credo by elevating the fundamental right to privacy to an absolute level (which it is not the case; please see the Handbook on European data protection law, page 21). By doing so they think or try to make others think that more is always better.

    Be it for narrow reasons, such as when European citizens are reduced to mere consumers, these self-proclaimed egalitarians are simultaneously neglecting the fact that citizens are more than just passive consumers with a broader set of needs, rights and goals; they are students, employees, employers, innovators, entrepreneurs, and/or parents to just mention a few different roles .

    Any calls from those who challenge the narrow absolutist view by pointing to other important objectives (such those expressed in the Treaty of European Union article 3.3) that European citizens expect from European policy makers to address is countered by rhetorical manoeuvring. If you are not with us you are against us, and in this case you are against a fundamental right, they shout. This trick is very effective in delivering entertaining headlines in newspapers but also effective in silencing any constructive criticism, resulting in poor and muted public debate. Even worse, these tricks cause some voices to shy away from public deliberations out of fear of being ridiculed. In this way, these self-proclaimed egalitarians censor the public debate and discourage some citizens from exercising their other fundamental right – freedom of expression!

    Well I, for one, am not silenced by these tricks!

    However there are other barriers to achieving a progressive data protection regulation, and this brings me back to the myth statement I made in the beginning of the post. Myths disguised as truisms are another challenge that stands in the way of progressive data protection regulation. We can all agree that the heavy lifting of making Europe a competitive digital economy will be done by businesses (and yes also including non-European ones) making investment decisions relying on ICT, data-driven innovation, cloud, analytics and so on. The associated risks with making these investment decisions are predominantly defined by data protection regulation (not considering financial/macro-economic conditions).

    Being a representative of business, I think that I know one or two things about business risk, hence this is why my least favorite myth is when one Commission official claimed “most of the industry, in terms of GDP, 95% are very happy with the [GDPR]”.

    This could not be further from the truth! See the table below or check it out in full here:

    Table 1. The unhappy ones with GDPR

    Businesses are reacting as you would expect them to react to a piece of legislation that will hugely hold back their ability to not only innovate, create jobs and grow but also to meaningfully contribute to the achievement of an ambitious Digital Single Market strategy . As the table shows above, these businesses are trying to present their side of the story, and it is not a story of happiness. On the contrary, these examples show among other things that:

    • Businesses are concerned with their ability to be competitive in data-driven innovation
    • Smaller companies are worried about a crippling administrative burden
    • Multinationals are worried about restrictions on international data flows. They know that to be successful they must operate in a global context.

    I believe that the gap between a happy and unhappy ending is not a wide one. If policy makers are willing to conclude a progressive data protection regulation, there are good suggestions on the negotiating table.

    The question is: Will they make the right choice for Europe?

    Written by Rene Summer

    Director of Government and Industry Relations Rene is responsible for policy, formulation and promotion research in the areas of telecom regulation, TV-broadcast regulation, media regulation, copyright, advertising, state aid and consumer privacy.

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