Saturday 10 December 2011

Save us from a secretive Data Protection Board

We’ve all had a good laugh at some of the Commission’s proposals contained in the infamous “Version 56” – the document recently leaked on the internet which is currently being reviewed within the Commission before a (presumably heavily) revised version of its proposals for a new legal framework is unveiled sometime next year.

My favourite bit is the part of the text which tries to create more effective co-ordination between the data protection supervisors of each Member State (and of course the European Data Protection Supervisor). The Article 29 Working Party is to be rebranded as the European Data Protection Board.

It is either to be chaired, or have as one of its 2 deputy chairs, the European Data Protection Supervisor. Its secretariat will be co-located with that of the European Data Protection Supervisor. It is to act independently and arrive at decisions by a simple majority of its members. Board discussions are to be confidential, as are documents and papers submitted to the Board. Similarly, all experts and others who support the Board are to have confidentiality requirements imposed on them.

So much for freedom of information and our own Government’s transparency agenda.

My next favourite bit is the proposal that its decisions, recommendations, guidelines and best practice notes are to have greater weight than before.

Currently, of course, the Article 29 Working Party issues opinions – and many of us are grateful for that as that is all they are. I’m happy to listen to anyone’s opinion, so long as they don’t always expect me to act in accordance with it. Let’s be honest, how many of the opinions that have been adopted by the Article 29 Working Party are on our “memorise” list? I find that too many of them are written in language that is quite difficult to understand, over long, and very hard to engage with. At least I can ignore the more tedious stuff.

But, please, spare us data protection officials from feeling that we may be more formally bound by standards or systems that will emerge from these new documents. Is there to be any political accountability on the part of the Data Protection Board – or a means of appeal when data controllers feel that this body has simply got it wrong?

Will we have to wait for decisions to be made in secret and then just unconditionally accept, in some sense of Papal infallibility, the correctness of this decision?

Please help us.

We all enjoy hearing about some of the personal characteristics of the current crop of Data Protection Supervisors, and to some extent we can forgive their foibles, after all they are only human. But what happens when their views start to radically diverge from the “norm”?

This was the thought that occurred to me last night, as I was enjoying the sensational new musical Matilda in London. One of the key figures is Miss Agatha Trunchball, played by the outrageous & brilliant Bertie Carvel (pictured). A former Olympic hammer thrower, she is now the Principal of Crunchem Hall Elementary School. Surreal and psychotic, she utters the phrases “Children are maggots” and “You’re heading for the chokey” whenever she wants to cast terror into the hearts and minds of the pupils (and their teacher).

How might European data controllers prevent a latter day Miss Agatha Trunchball from becoming Chairman of the European Data Protection Board and then running amok? How might they be able to stand up to her, as Maltilda did last night, when they haven’t got special powers to change things? In terms that Roald Dhal would have appreciated, how might the data controllers manage to divert her attention, if they can’t slip a newt into her knickers?

Perhaps the only way to ensure that sanity prevails will be to ensure that someone like me gets to be elected its first Chairman. Well, if it’s a choice between me, Agatha Trunchball or Edna Turnblad, I think I ought to win, hands down.

Articles 73-72 of Version 56
A musical version of Roald Dhal’s novel, Matilda: A Musical, written by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin and commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, opened at the Cambridge Theatre on 24th November 2011, after a run the previous year in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Edna Turnblad is a character from the award winning film and musical Hairspray. Another larger-than-life individual, she also has a lot to teach her fellow citizens in terms of dignity and mutual respect.