The hopes of Google, Facebook and other US internet giants for a single, one-stop-shop data privacy watchdog in the European Union are heading toward the political toilet as several EU states back away from plans to set one up.
The proposed body, which has been strongly backed by Google and Facebook, would grant sole powers to regulators where internet firms have European headquarters (Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Apple, for example, have already located their EU bases in Ireland for data protection purposes). But at a meeting in Brussels this week, justice ministers dropped the plans.
The new compromise would grant other nations the power to veto decisions taken by the lead regulatory organisation. France and Germany have been opposed to the one-stop-shop concept, with the German Interior Minister, Thomas de Maiziere, describing the substitute plan, which involves all authorities in decision-making, as a “sensible” alternative. Several EU member states, however (notably the UK, Ireland and Poland) are directly opposed to the change.
Ireland’s Data Protection Minister, Dara Murphy, has insisted that the new proposal would result in a single disagreement leading to the case being referred to a board that would then have to resolve the dispute. Somewhat unsurprisingly given the UK’s somewhat dismissive stance on data privacy, UK Justice Minister Chris Grayling agrees: it will, he said, create “disagreements and legal challenges, protracted delay, huge expense and a large volume of cases building up.”
These sound like reasonable objections. But what is far less reasonable is the assumption that ordinary EU citizens are as indifferent about their internet privacy as some of the more security-bullish politicians take then to be (or believe they ought to be). Edward Norton’s revelations about mass data surveillance by the US NSA and the UK’s GCHQ have cast a long shadow over Europe, not least in Germany where public disquiet borders on the positively enraged.
When push comes to shove, most people believe they should be assumed by their State to be law-abiding citizens (unless compelling evidence emerges to suggest otherwise) and should be free to access their digital content without fear of third party surveillance. Google, Facebook and US-friendly jurisdictions may want an efficient watchdog. But perhaps they need to make the case for why ordinary people should have any faith in it before they set it up.