A key European Union lawmaker has described meetings with the U.K. government over the country’s data protection reform plans as “appalling.”
French MEP (member of European Parlaiment) Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield said she felt “we were taken for fools” after Digital Minister Julia Lopez quit the meeting halfway through, U.K. Home Office ministers didn’t bother to meet them and the U.K.’s data regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office, sent Acting Executive Director Emily Keaney rather than chief John Edwards.
Delbos-Corfield said the ICO official “didn’t seem to know anything about data protection” and couldn’t elaborate beyond one-sentence answers. She contrasted this with a recent visit to the under-fire Irish data commissioner Helen Dixon, who “was very prepared” with stats at her fingertips.
The MEP, a member of the European Parliament’s Greens, was in London last week as part of a three-person delegation from the Parliament’s influential Civil Liberties Committee to scrutinize Britain’s plans to reform its data protection rulebook.
U.K. Digital Secretary Michelle Donelan has vowed to replace the “mad” data regulation rulebook that Britain inherited from the EU, the General Data Protection Regulation. Even so, the U.K. must keep privacy standards similar to the EU to maintain lucrative data flows with the 27-member bloc.
But Delbos-Corfield was left far from impressed after the visit to London. “It was appalling, it was all about growth and innovation and nothing about human rights,” said the French MEP about a meeting with U.K. government officials about the reform plans… I never heard them say, protecting data is a fundamental right. Even in Hungary they say this,” she said.
Italian MEP Fulvio Martusciello from the center-right European People’s Party said his impression from the visit was that Britain is “giving in on privacy in exchange for business gain… In Europe, the protection of the individual prevails; in the U.K. the protection of the economy,” he said.
A U.K. government official present at the meeting dismissed the MEPs’ accounts, saying the meeting had been positive. “We were clear that we have a strong commitment to high data protection standards,” the official said.
Delbos-Corfield said “the most concerning thing about the visit was the weakness of the ICO.”
An official at the ICO speaking on a condition of anonymity said John Edwards was unable to make the meeting because of existing diary commitments and that MEPs primarily wanted to discuss the data reforms, which is more a topic for the government.
“We were pleased to support LIBE’s visit last week, with our Deputy Commissioner and senior officials outlining our role in the adequacy arrangements, as well as answering questions on the government’s data protection reform plans,” an ICO spokesperson said.
“The U.K. is firmly committed to protecting people’s data and our reforms will strengthen the country’s trusted high standards while making it easier for businesses and researchers to unlock the power of data to improve society and grow the economy,” said a spokesperson for the U.K. digital ministry. It is understood that government ministers attend meetings for as long as possible when there are diary pressures.