EU supervisor: Privacy and transparency are complementary, not competing

EU Data Protection Supervisor Peter Hustinx has presented a report that tries to strike a delicate balance between the fundamental rights of access to documents and of data protection. In an exclusive interview with EURACTIV, Mr. Hustinx commented on the paper and on other EU data protection issues. 

The paper, which Mr. Hustinx presented to the Parliament’s Citizens’ Rights, Justice and Home Affairs Committee on 13 July 2005, is the first in a series of background papers on the protection of data in the EU. It provides guidance mainly to EU officials having to deal with privacy law in their everyday work – when handling applications and calls for tender, organising conferences and hearings or publishing research results. The report promotes a balanced approach of neither indiscriminately deleting all names from all published documents, nor making data relating to the private sphere of individuals accessible. Instead of long legalistic considerations, it illustrates this approach using a number of examples taken from officials’ requests to Mr. Hustinx’s office. 

The paper is addressing a delicate issue, because one of the main points of discussion in setting up the Data Protection Supervisor’s office was a perceived conflict between an approach based on the interests of public access to all EU documents – exemplified by the EU Ombusdsman – and an approach based on the protection of the private sphere of any persons mentioned therein. In reality, Mr. Hustinx told EURACTIV, there is no rivalry:  “We have been in close contact with the European Ombudsman on this report, and we will be cooperating together.”

The main problem with privacy protection in the EU institutions is, according to Mr. Hustinx, that the whole idea of it is relatively new to them: “They have to catch up, and we are checking on all existing systems.” Concerning new and potentially privacy-invasive legislation, the supervisor has complaints in particular about the Council: “There we have a problem because some of the proposals do not look good.” He warns against introducing such legislation as an immediate reaction after terrorist attacks, like the 7 July 2005 bombings in London: “We should continue to think soberly about the issues at stake, that is: what is necessary? How could we provide the appropriate measure? how could we then implement the appropriate safeguards? I think there is a trap here that emotions could drive decision-making.”

Read the full version of this interview

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