Facebook warns over impact of EU data privacy directive

Friday 17 May 2013 17.03
Marne Levine said the directive was a great opportunity for Europe to define its role in innovation
Marne Levine said the directive was a great opportunity for Europe to define its role in innovation

Facebook's head of privacy has warned that a new EU data privacy directive will be a significant regulatory step that will determine Europe's future as an innovation economy.

Speaking in Dublin, Facebook's Global Vice-President for Public Policy Marne Levine said the directive could also be a barrier to a meaningful new EU-US free trade agreement if not formulated correctly.

The EU is currently negotiating changes to its outdated privacy directive.

The proposed measures include a single regulatory authority for data protection and a right for individuals to demand their personal details be "forgotten" by organisations that hold data on them.

It is hoped the new directive can be agreed by the end of next year, before the current European Parliament and Commission finish their term.

Addressing a meeting of the Institute for International and European Affairs, Ms Levine said the regulatory framework would determine how all information based services can act across all EU states.

She described it as a great opportunity for Europe to define what kind of economy it wants to be and what role it wants to play in innovation.

She said the new regulations would have a lasting and decisive effect on a range of industries. If not fully thought out, she warned, it could set back all the amazing benefits technology has to offer into the future.

Ms Levine said the negotiations should be guided by a number of principles, including that they empower people involved in data collection and storage to always ask whose data is involved and what is the purpose of its collection.

She said this was common sense to Facebook, as trust is the cornerstone of its business and good privacy practice is good business.

Ms Levine said the directive must involve smart regulation that focuses on delivering not just strong data protection standards, but also growth.

She said Europe should follow the regulatory example of Silicon Valley and added that the new rules also need to celebrate technology.

Ms Levine said Facebook is supportive of many of the aspects of the draft directive, including the one-stop shop regulatory regime. However she warned against legislation that is too prescriptive or burdensome, and which might undermine the role of the lead Data Protection Authority in each country.

When it comes to privacy protection, Ms Levine said at Facebook "we get it". She said these are important issues and there is nothing that they take more seriously.

Speaking at the same event, the Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes said getting the balance between the right to personal data protection while not inhibiting innovation is not an easy task. He said the effort to update the law was welcome.

Mr Hawkes said the requirement for organisations to adopt more privacy-friendly policies through a ‘privacy-by-design’ approach will also be welcomed by responsible industry players.

People should be given choice where possible but consent must be meaningful, he added, not a tick box agreement to unintelligible legalese.

Established commercial models, including the advertising model that drives much of the internet, should not be disrupted he said.

Steps such as the right to be forgotten need to be expressed in terms that are realistic, Mr Hawkes said.

As Ireland is a welcoming country for many US multinationals, it has a particular interest in aiming for interoperability between EU and US models of privacy protection.

Mr Hawkes said privacy is a common value. He also said that proper resourcing of data protection would be essential under the new directive.