Justice ministers' proposals to relax European Union data protection rules for low-risk personal data are a step in the right direction, according to a lobbying group backed by IBM, Microsoft and Oracle.
But they still impose unnecessary burdens on industry, the group said.
"The risk-based approach is a pragmatic way to protect sensitive data while at the same time preventing the unnecessary slowing down of data flows in cases where people's privacy isn't at risk," John Higgins, director general of DigitalEurope said in a statement.
Friday's meeting of the Council of the EU proposed less stringent rules for protecting personal data not considered "high risk," the latest step in the long process of reforming EU data protection law. The current Data Protection Directive dates back to 1995, and the reform is aimed at reinforcing consumer confidence in online services, updating the rules to take account of new technologies, and potentially saving businesses €2.3 billion (US$2.9 billion) a year through reduced administrative burdens.
The Council is composed of national ministers from each of the EU's 28 member states. Which ministers attend depends on the matters under discussion. On Friday it was the turn of justice ministers, who discussed an amendment to the draft data protection regulation proposed last week by the Italian government. Italy is the current holder of the six-month rotating presidency of the Council.
The EU's executive body, the European Commission, first proposed the new data protection regulation in January 2012. The European Parliament approved the draft regulation with minor modifications in March.
Under the proposal agreed by the justice ministers on Friday, there would be no requirement for companies with fewer than 250 employees to keep a register for regulators of the data they control or process, to whom it is sent and where, unless the data is considered "high risk". Larger companies such as Apple, CA Technologies, Hewlett-Packard, SAP and all the other DigitalEurope members would still be required to keep a record of all such data processing, which may explain the group's lukewarm support for the amended text.
"There remain a number of weaknesses in the text that will result in unnecessary burdens on data controllers and processors, without any improvement in privacy protection," the group said.
The amendment approved by the justice ministers also requires that businesses carry out an impact assessment of the risks associated with holding data, a process DigitalEurope criticized as complex.
DigitalEurope also said the rules on sub-contracting data processing work were overly restrictive. Rules for employing data protection officers who are responsible for ensuring compliance with the law are "unwieldy and inflexible," the group said.
The group also highlighted the problem of declaring too much data to be high risk: "There's no point calling it risk-based if in reality the law continues to lump everything in the high risk category," it said.
The draft regulation, in discussion for almost three years, is still some distance away from becoming law. Friday's meeting gave the Italian government no mandate to negotiate a compromise with the Parliament on the changes made, and it dealt with only one chapter of the draft regulation -- which ministers could still modify further.
Whatever they decide, there's no telling how their changes will be viewed by the other decision makers: A new Parliament has been elected since the discussions began, and a new Commission is about to be nominated.
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Peter Sayer covers general technology breaking news for IDG News Service, with a special interest in open source software and related European intellectual property legislation. Send comments and news tips to Peter at [email protected].