Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Isn’t it exciting!

Another document has emerged from the European Council, outlining some thoughts on possible amendments to the draft Data Protection Regulation.

Just to recap, the original version, published on 25 January, had 139 Whereas clauses, 93 Articles and some 112 pages of text. This version has lost one Whereas clause (there are now just 138) and 2 articles (just 91 remain).

If only those were the only changes. Actually, you really need a brain the size of a planet to even begin to appreciate the significance of some of the other textual changes. The odd word and phrase has been proposed, which fundamentally changes the thrust of the relevant bit of the text. And, so many Member States have logged reservations about so many different parts of the text that it’s really hard to work out how seriously we are to take some of these proposed amendments. Last week, Chris Pounder, he of Amberhawk fame, blogged about the significance of some of these changes, so thankfully, I don’t have to.

And this is where you see the political game really begin.

For those that still have the energy to care, what will go on for the next year or so is a war of attrition. Directives as significant as this don’t come along that often. When they do, they are initially accompanied by a hysterical amount of attention from the media and conference-going classes.

But for how long can the attention of the public (and the budgets of the conference-going classes) remain focused on this issue? What generally happens is that after a few months, protestors lose the will to protest, as the negotiations get so prolonged they bore the pants off normal people, leaving only the true anoraks to stay the course.

I wonder when boredom will set in about this proposal. Already I’m detecting a glazed look in people’s eyes, as I excitedly point out the implications of a minor change to some obscure Whereas clause or phrase in an Article. This stuff may be important, but it’s really boring to be involved in the minutiae of the discussions, especially when conclusions are so many months off.

But, as we all know, decisions are taken by those who are present. Not by those who made their apologies or just don’t turn up. So, as some of the lightweights peel off, the heavy lifting will need to be done by a core of hardy anoraks whose, prejudices, I hope, will be similar to my prejudices.

I appreciate that even the European Commission wants to hold a healthy debate about its proposals, and I wonder what steps it will take to encourage greater participation by European data controllers and members of European Civil Society over the months ahead. Or will the discussions be influenced by an unhealthy amount of lobbying from non-EU Data Controllers, simply because these controllers have the deep pockets that will be required to engage data protection diehards who can afford to spend time in Brussels and elsewhere, pointing out the significance and likely impact of the proposals?

Do we really live in a democratic society when its institutions make it so hard to allow concerned citizens to engage fully in the consideration of initiatives such as this? Perhaps the folk at DG Justice should consider offering bursaries to concerned people (like me) to participate in the consultation process in a more meaningful way.

Or, if there are any other organisations out there, who have funding in place and who need a helping hand to get their points across to the relevant bods, please feel free to get in touch.

Chris Pounder blogged about the significance of the proposed changes on 26 June. See http://amberhawk.typepad.com/