Data retention is always a sensitive issue; what is retained, for how long, under what conditions, and who can access the data? Recently, Ireland’s Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the government and telecommunications providers was leaked, providing members of the public with a non-redacted view of what these MoU’s look like and how they integrate with the European data retention directive. In this post, I want to give a quick primer on the EU data retention directive, identify some key elements of Ireland’s MoU and the Article 29 Data Protection Working Group’s evaluation of the directive more generally. Finally, I’ll offer a few comments concerning data protection versus privacy protection and use the EU data protection directive as an example. The aim of this post is to identify a few deficiencies in both data retention and data protection laws and argue that privacy advocates and government officials to defend privacy first, approaching data protection as a tool rather than an end-in-itself.
A Quick Primer on EU Data Retention
In Europe, Directive 2006/24/EC (the Data Retention Directive, or DRD) required member-nations to pass legislation mandating retention of particular telecommunications data. Law enforcement sees retained data as useful for public safety reasons. A community-level effort was required to facilitate harmonized data retention; differences in members’ national laws meant that the EU was unlikely to have broadly compatible cross-national retention standards. As we will see, this concern remains well after the Directive’s passage. Continue reading →
When people are about to download content from the ‘net that is copywritten, many often ask ‘will I get caught doing this?’ For many, the response is ‘no’ and then continue to download that episode of Seinfeld or whatever. Given that there are so many people downloading, and that record companies in the US have claimed to have abandoned filing new lawsuits against individuals, then things (in North America) appear to be getting better.
At issue, however, is that filing lawsuits is big money, and in Europe especially it looks like Digiprotect has moved in to assume first-mover advantage. Digiprotect gets “the legal rights from the companies to distribute these movies to stores, and with these rights we can sue illegal downloaders. Then we take legal action in every country possible, concentrating on the places where such action will be profitable” (Source). They avoid demanding too much money from infringers, on the basis that few judges like the idea of imposing million dollar fines on individuals – usually opting for suits demanding in the vicinity of 500 Euros. This amount of money ‘teaches’ individuals and provides enough money to keep the employees paid. No staff member has a fixed salary – they are paid according to the ‘cases’ that are won. The actual method of determining the financial burdens are based on the business expenses, profit, and money to be distributed to artists. In effect, the company sets up a honeypot and then sues whomever it is profitable to sue.
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Newman’s Protectors of Privacy: Regulating Personal Data in the Global Economy is exemplary in its careful exposition of Europe’s data protection regulations. Using a historical narrative approach, he demonstrates that Europe’s current preeminence in data protection is largely a consequence of the creation of regulatory authorities in member nations that were endowed with binding coercive powers. As a result of using the historical narrative method, he can firmly argue that neither liberal intergovermentalist nor neo-functionalist theories can adequately account for the spread of data protection regulations in the EU. Disavowing the argument that market size alone is responsible for the spread of data protection between member nations, or in explaining Europe’s ability to influence foreign data protection regulations, Newman argues that the considerable development of regulatory capacity in European member states, and the EU itself, is key to Europe’s present leading role in the field of data protection.
Drawing on recent telecommunication retention directives, as well as agreements between the EU and US surrounding the sharing of airline passenger information, Newman reveals the extent to which data protection advocates can influence transnational agreements; influence, in the EU, turns out to be largely dependent on situating data privacy issues within the First Pillar. For Newman, Europe’s intentional development of regulatory expertise at the member state, and subsequently EU level, as demonstrated in the field of data privacy and tentatively substantiated by his brief reflection on the EU’s financial regulatory capacity, may lead the EU to play a more significant role in shaping international action than would be expected, given its smaller market size as compared to the US, China, and India.
Overall, I would highly recommend this book. If you are interested in the role of regulatory capacity in the ongoing issues of personal data (especially as it pertains to the EU), or if you just want to read an inviting, concise, and well-developed historical account of the development of EU data protection regulations, then this book is a great way to spend an evening or three.