US lobbyists supplied European politicians with text for data law

Members of the European Parliament complain about the lobbying pressure

A new website has revealed that European Parliamentarians are taking direction from U.S. companies in watering down parts of a new data protection law.

LobbyPlag.eu compared amendments put forward by the various parliamentary committees examining the E.U. Data Protection Regulation to the text submitted by lobbyists and found that many of the changes were copied from documents supplied by Amazon, eBay and the American Chamber of Commerce.

Last year the European Commission presented proposed update to the European Union's data protection rules, which date from 1995, and parliamentarians have been scrutinizing them since.

But many Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), including Sophie In't Veld, Christian Engstrom and Jan-Philipp Albrecht, said that Parliament has been subjected to one of the most concerted lobbying campaigns they have ever seen.

Even Justice Commissioner Vivian Reding, who put forward the proposed regulation, told a British newspaper that the lobbying was fierce.

The similarities between the lobbying position papers and MEPs' amendments were first noted by Europe Versus Facebook, a digital rights organization. Spokesman Max Schrems said although there are legitimate questions from business, most lobbying from American IT giants seeks "to push through small changes in key points that make the whole structure of the law unstable."

"In a nutshell: The IT industry is about to kill our fundamental right to data protection and privacy and some parliamentarians apparently do not even notice when assisting them," he said.

Technology blogger Glynn Moody wrote that "some activists have said it's even worse than during ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), while on the U.S. side there's mutterings about starting a trade war if it's passed in its present form."

He urged readers to contact their MEPs to ask them "why exactly they have proposed amendments that are taken word-for-word, or nearly so, from U.S. companies and lobbyists, and that will harm the E.U. public and benefit those same U.S. organizations."

Meanwhile on Monday, Commissioner Reding and ETNO (the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association) jointly called on the European Parliament "to ensure that provisions that facilitate a level playing field between all actors of the ICT industry remain a key building block of the Regulation, in order to guarantee fair competition between E.U. companies and those based outside of the union but which operate on Europe's single market."

Even American activists such as Jay Stanley, American Civil Liberties Union senior policy analyst, have urged European law makers to stand firm against lobbying by companies such as Facebook and Google as well as the U.S. Mission to the E.U.

A recent document published by the U.S. Mission to the E.U. claimed that the proposed new regulation could "stifle innovation and inhibit growth" and urged the E.U. "to look more toward outcomes that provide meaningful protection for privacy and focus less on formalistic requirements."

Once it has been assessed by all the Parliamentary committees, the proposed law will be voted on by the Parliament as a whole during the plenary session in April.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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