MEP defends position in EU data protection scandal
By Stewart Mitchell
Posted on 12 Feb 2013 at 12:30
MEP Malcolm Harbour has defended his input on EU data protection legislation after being singled out for criticism for regurgitating lobbyist opinions in his recommended amendments to proposed privacy rules.
European regulators are considering amendments to proposed EU data protection regulations, with major tech firms lobbying to limit rules on how they can retain, access and process user data.
Harbour and other MPs on a committee that's steering data policy in Brussels had been accused of copy and pasting lobbyist material into their written submissions on the subject, but the MEP said it was completely natural to include industry views in his contribution.
“I believe that engaging with industry, data protection officers, interest groups and individual citizens is all part of the democratic process,” Harbour said in a statement sent to PC Pro.
[Many of these amendments in fact differ on the detail from the representations made by industry and I dispute Privacy International's 25% figure
“I do not believe we should immediately discount proposed amendments when they come from businesses that make use of and are responsible for protecting personal data.
"The amendments I tabled were ones that I considered were best able to improve the draft regulation, especially in terms of data protection, control, and transparency for data subjects."
Harbour also said he disagreed with the analysis of Privacy International and LobbyPlag, on the level to which he copied the words from companies such as Amazon and Ebay, which are hoping to minimise the impact of new data proposals.
“I have reviewed the amendments that Privacy International alleges I 'copied',” he said. “Many of these amendments in fact differ on the detail from the representations made by industry and I dispute Privacy International's 25% figure.”
The comments follow revelations that several MEPs had simply regurgitated material written by tech companies and industry groups in response to proposed legislation on tighter controls.
MEPs sitting on committees shaping the plans have been asked to suggest amendments to the proposed regulation, but according to research from Privacy International, the wording suggested by several committee members has been cut and pasted directly from lobby group documents.
Harbour - Conservative MEP for the West Midlands – was alleged to have copy and pasted more than 25% of his contributions to committee documents directly from lobby group papers.
Also named and shamed by Privacy International were Sajjad Karim, Conservative MEP for the North West of England, who allegedly proposed amendments with over 23% identical content, and Giles Chichester, Conservative MEP for South West England and Gibraltar, with 22% of content allegedly taken from lobbyist documents.
The claims are the result of a project called LobbyPlag, which analysed amendment documents submitted by MEPs compared to the contents of documents submitted by trade associations and companies.
"Certain companies will always be willing and able to throw millions of dollars behind lobbying efforts to ensure that new legislation doesn't interfere with their business models - particularly if those models are dependent on invading people's rights to privacy and data protection," said Anna Fielder, a trustee of Privacy International
"We would hope that MEPs are taking all sides of the argument into account when making law, not just the richest and most powerful corporate interests."
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