Friday, February 12, 2010

An American in Paris

A year ago, in the early phases of thinking about how or whether to suggest revisions to the European Data Protection Directive, the European Commission created a little "group of experts" to provide ideas. This unpaid group was formed after a public call for applications, and had no mandate other than to produce some ideas. Expert groups are a common process at the Commission. Since I'm very interested in this topic, and since I represent a technical/global/Internet perspective on things, I was happy to apply and even happier to be accepted to join it. But the group was disbanded after only one meeting, as reported here.

As an American who has lived in Paris for many years, I was more than a little startled to see French politicians launch a campaign to get the European Commission to disband this group because it contained..."Americans". Naturally, I thought it was odd to hear this anti-American rhetoric applied to me. It's hard to find an American more Francophile than me. One of the other guys on the experts' group was an American of German origin who has lived in Brussels for many years and is universally recognized as one of the world's great legal experts on European data protection law.

Of course, it was distasteful for me to hear French government officials engaging in conventional French political rhetoric against "Americans", but this was the first time in my professional life that I was the explicit target of it. I don't like xenophobia in any guise, even if it's just public posturing. But I also remind myself that anti-Americanism has long been one of the common threads of European data protection rhetoric, such as the endless posturing of the EU Parliament on SWIFT.

Privately, things are different. Privately, these same French audiences regularly invite me to discussions or hearings on privacy issues. In recent months, I've had separate meetings with committees focusing on modernizing privacy laws in the French Senate, with French politicians, and with the French Data Protection Agency. Privately, there's a very thoughtful debate underway in many French government circles on these important questions, and I'm privileged to be invited to participate in them. Privately, we all understand that the privacy debate has become global, and only global solutions will work in the long run.

Anyway, here are some excellent ideas from the European Privacy Officers Forum about what needs to be modernized in this window of review of increasingly obsolete European privacy laws. Had our "experts' group" not been disbanded, we might have made similar recommendations...


Luk said...

To be fair, Alex Türk complained because 4 out the 5 people invited were representing US companies. While I agree with you that this is distasteful, France is kind-of paranoid when it comes to private data handling by corporations (weirdly, Police forces are under much lighter scrutiny...).

However, I'm starting to be more and more annoyed by the "OMG they speak English" excuse when it comes to European affairs. I guess he was angry he couldn't join. Please excuse our narrow-minded politicians :)

Álvaro Del Hoyo said...


As private life or privacy right is a fundamental right, I do not see the point of refusing people working for American companies, or companies for any other country even if they are not EU state members. Even when they are be intensively used by Europeans every day.

Things to add to the list...balance of freedom of speech and privacy -taking into account intermediary service providers responsibility exceptions-, property and privacy, minors privacy,... and specially disclosure of information on Internet by individuals, does it mean that we are giving tacit or non express consent for any third party to treat our data even if they are not informing us?
Thanks for your ruminations