Europe’s controversial new data protection rules could be decided in closed-door back-room talks if a mandate is approved by the Parliament’s Civil Liberties committee next week. It has now been officially confirmed, as predicted before the summer break by Iptegrity,  that the rapporteur, Jan Philipp Albrecht, is to put the option to his committee. A vote will be taken next Monday 21 October.

 The committee will take its decision in a meeting that commences at 6.30pm. Formally, it will be asked to approve  the ‘adoption of the draft report and of the decision to enter into negotiations with Council’.  

 What this actually means is that the Committee is being asked to approve the commencement of  secret talks with the Council of Ministers and the Commission  - so-called trilogues. Iptegrity predicted last July that Mr Albrecht wanted to ask for the trilogue mandate: Closed-door trilogues are on the data privacy agenda (see also Cloak of secrecy hangs over EU privacy reform ).

 Trilogues are usually held behind closed doors, and only the rapporteurs, shadows and their aides will be allowed in. Everyone else is left guessing until a document is issued, usually  by the Council.

 The aim of the trilogue would be to produce so-called “compromises”   - but do not confuse this with the colloquial meaning of the word. In this instance, “compromise” means finding a text that will satisfy the political positions of the three institutions.

 The reason that this process is problematic in this case, is that the European Parliament has not established its own position, and neither, as far as I know, has the Council of Ministers. The concern is that rules which favour industry and potentially compromise our privacy could sneak in with no oversight of the process by civil society.

 The Council is divided broadly between the British and the German positions, where the British favour the industry demands and the Germans want stronger privacy.

  It is unclear where the Parliament stands, and many MEPs are still struggling to determine what position to take, given the Prism scandal and the ongoing revelations of surveillance and interception of all our communication by Edward Snowden. Many MEPs favour the stronger data protection environment proposed by Mr Albrecht.

 The rules of the European Parliament stipulate that any such compromise must be put to the Civil Liberties committee for a fresh vote, before the Albrecht report could go to the plenary.

 The use of trilogues would mean that lobbyists will find it harder to influence the final decision-making  process directly because there is no access to documents or discussions. On the other hand, the corporate lobbyists tend to have the best routes into the Council, giving them potentially an advantage over the NGOs, who tend to have their strongest influence in the Parliament.

 Dimitrios Droutsas, the Greek MEP responsible for the partner directive on data protection and law enforcement, is also to ask for a trilogue mandate. This would maintain the twinning of the the two pieces of regulation and it will mean that there is no room

 However, it looks like the Civil Liberties committee is  expecting a rough ride on Monday, because there is a possibility to hold the vote on Thursday if the committee does not reach a decision by 10.30pm. The data protection regulation (Albrecht report) and its partner (Droutsas report), the law enforcement directive, are the main items on the agenda.

 The move adds to the controversy surrounding the new  data privacy rules, which have been subjected to extraordinarily heavy lobbying in the Committee phase of the European Parliament process. Amendments lobbied by both corporates and NGOs total over 7000 to both reports. It is highly unusual to hold trilogues in the first reading prior to a vote in the plenary. It’s much more common for trilogues to happen in the second reading, after the Parliament has had the opportunity to establish its own position.

 If  - and it is still if – the trilogues are mandated next week, the rules of the European Parliament stipulate that any “compromise” must be put to the Civil Liberties committee for a fresh vote, before the Albrecht report could go to the plenary.

---

Further comment on the Data Protection Regulation (Albrecht report) and trilogues from La Quadrature du Net

Want to know about trilogues and the European Parliament process? See my book The Copyright Enforcement Enigma Internet politics and the Telecoms Package  (Amazon have some very keen prices on it too!)

 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,  Secret talks on privacy law: EU Parliament to decide next week 15 October 2013.  Commercial users - please contact me.