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Pause in forming new EU data protection rules could help 'more balanced law' emerge, says Google lawyer

The delay in finalising reforms to the EU's data protection framework may help ensure that reforms, when they do arrive, are modern and balanced, Google's global privacy counsel has said.

Peter Fleischer said that 2013 had seen the collapse of European Commission plans for reforms in EU data protection laws, but said that a new framework would "eventually" be created.

More than 3,000 amendments to the Commission's draft General Data Protection Regulation were proposed by MEPs who scrutinised the proposals, which the Commission first published in January 2012. The Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee at the European Parliament eventually agreed on the wording of a heavily revised document in October last year, but EU member states, represented by justice officials at the Council of Ministers, have yet to reach a consensus on the reforms.

Only if member states can agree on a set position will they then be able to open negotiations with MEPs in an effort to finalise a new regime amenable to both groups. The European Parliament and Council of Ministers must both vote to approve new EU laws before they can be introduced.

Fleischer said that the delays may help lawmakers produce better laws than if the original proposals had been pressed ahead with.

"The old draft is dead, and something else will eventually be resurrected in its place," Fleischer said in a blog. "We'll have to wait until 2014, or perhaps even later, to learn what will replace it. Whatever comes next will be the most important privacy legislation in the world, setting the global standards. I'm hopeful that this pause will give lawmakers time to write a better, more modern and more balanced law."

Data protection law expert Marc Dautlich of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that there is still a lot of disagreement that needs to be resolved before data protection reforms will be implemented.

"There is a lot of ongoing speculation about the rate of progress of the Regulation in negotiations within the EU and whether it will be settled by the time of European Parliament elections this spring," Dautlich said. "The problems Justice Ministers have found in agreeing on how the new ‘one stop shop’ regulatory regime should work in practice is just one example of this. In early December the Legal Services counsel for the Council of Ministers said that the 'one-stop shop' would not be acceptable on human rights grounds in view of the difficulty data subjects would have in exercising their rights under the proposed system."

"Many such hurdles remain to be overcome. Keep in mind that the current Data Protection Directive took some five years to agree and this time around there are more member states with more objections – though so long as there remain such fundamental disagreements as voiced between lawyers for the Commission and the Council of Ministers on issues like the one stop shop, those member states don’t actually even need to wheel out their big guns," he said.

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