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The UK Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has given the closest indication yet that the EU reform of data protection law, known as the Data Protection Regulation, is in political difficulty. Speaking on the BBC Radio Today Programme, Mr Grayling revealed certain aspects of the British position and hinted that a difference between the UK and Germany is at the root of a divide in the Council.

Chris Grayling was being interviewed yesterday on the Today Programme prior flying off to a meeting of the EU Justice Ministers that takes place in Vilnius today. On the agenda for the meeting is the reform of data protection in the European Union.

This was an informal meeting organised by the presidency, but it is at these kinds of meetings where positions in the Council begin to be negotiated.

Chris Grayling's comments are interesting because they cast light onto the shady world of the Council positioning on this issue, and especially on the reported divisions between Member States.

Mr Grayling said that the UK is would prefer a different legal route from the one proposed by the Commission and which is already being processed by the European Parliament. The UK does not favour a Regulation, which would be imposed on all 28 Member States at once, in the same way: "we have argued for a Directive not a Regulation" he said. His words confirm my previous report EU data privacy reform - does the Council have the political will? .

Mr Grayling put forward an argument that small businesses need protection from an increase in red tape that, he suggested, could result from what he seemed to be calling an 'absurdly draconian law'. "The Commission is trying to legislate for Google and Facebook" he said, but in his opinion, the law could cost UK small businesses an extra £700 million per year.

He said that the UK is looking for more balance and flexibility in the proposal.

Another issue that he raised was the prospect of imposing new liaibilities onto small businesses and non-proft campaign groups for data protection and data erasure under the 'right to be forgotten' provisions.

"if you are running a campaign on Facebook to save the local post office, are you then liable to delete data? " he said. Mr Grayling said that the 'right to be forgotten' is a 'great principle that sounds fine at a high level' but when you look at the detail there are unintended consequences that may make it less attractive.

What's also interesting is that Chris Grayling has suggested that there is a political problem with the Data Protection Regulation as it currently stands:

'The data protection rules have run into the mire' he said, 'The Commission is trying to use security agency activity to re-activate its proposal'

The expression 'in the mire' means 'in difficulties'. However, it is not clear why Mr Grayling would think the proposal was being 're-activated' when it currently 'live' and in First Reading in the European Parliament - unless, the proposal really has fallen into a chasm in the Council as I previously reported ( see EU data privacy reform - does the Council have the political will? )

Mr Grayling indicated that there is a difference of opinion in the Council between the UK and the German governments. According to him, the Germans are focussing on the public sector whereas the UK appears to be arguing from the business standpoint.

The political significance is that the European Parliament rapporteur wants to wrap up the Regulation by thrashing out an agreement with the Council before next spring. (See Closed-door trilogues are on the data privacy agenda ). Brussels insiders have already hinted that this is unlikely. This confirmation of the UK position would certainly raise the bar to that happening.

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For more on the EU legislative process and how the European Parliament and Council of Ministers work, see my bookThe Copyright Enforcement Enigma

This is an original article from Iptegrity.com and reflects research that I have carried out. If you refer to it or to its content, please cite my name as the author, and provide a link back to iptegrity.com. Media and Academics - please cite as Monica Horten, 2013, EU data privacy reform "in the mire" says UK Minister 19 July 2013. Commercial users - please contact me.

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About Iptegrity

Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I am an  independent policy advisor: online safety, technology and human rights. In April 2024, I was appointed as an independent expert on the Council of Europe Committee of Experts on online safety and empowerment of content creators and users. I am a published author, and post-doctoral scholar. I hold a PhD from the University of Westminster, and a DipM from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. I cover the UK and EU. I'm a former tech journalist, and an experienced panelist and Chair. My media credits include the BBC, iNews, Times, Guardian and Politico.

Iptegrity.com is made available free of charge for non-commercial use. Please link back and attribute Dr Monica Horten.  Contact me to use any of my content for commercial purposes.