Doctoral dissertation: EU data protection policy heavily impacted by forceful lobbying

30.10.2019
A doctoral dissertation recently published at the University of Helsinki indicates that the hand of lobbyists is evident in the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation of the EU. The GDPR came into force more than a year ago.

The dissertation examines the different draft proposals of the General Data Protection Regulation drawn up by EU institutions, demonstrating great variance between the proposals submitted by the European Commission, Parliament and Council.

The Commission’s proposal was reminiscent of proposals originating in civil society, which, according to the dissertation, can be explained by the fact that the Commission’s Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers (DG Justice) was more inclined to focus on citizens’ rights. DG Justice also coordinated the secretariat of the European data protection authorities’ working group, the Article 29 Working Party, which also had an impact on the proposal.

Even though the lobbyists consulted during the legislative procedure by the EU overwhelmingly represented corporate interests, their influence in the proposal published by the Commission in 2012 was limited.

“Instead, the lobbyists were able to critically influence the proposals made by members of the European Parliament: the members copied long sentences and whole articles from the lobbyists’ recommendations,” says doctoral candidate Jockum Hildén from the University of Helsinki.

A change came in June 2013 when Edward Snowden exposed the global mass surveillance effort carried out by the National Security Agency of the United States. Non-governmental organisations and members of the European Parliament concerned about the privacy of citizens, together with rapporteur Jan Philipp Albrecht, who presented the proposal, seized on the leak and proposed that MEPs who had lent an ear to IT lobbyists were enabling mass surveillance conducted by the United States.

“The campaign was successful, and the version of the GDPR approved by the parliament in the first reading was to a large extent based on amendments by Albrecht and his allies”, says Hildén.

Council emphasised national exceptions and business interests

According to the dissertation, the revelations did little to affect the Council, as its GDPR proposal emphasised business interests and national exceptions.

“Many amendments, such as the definition of consent, were as if lifted directly from the proposals of IT lobbyists."

In the ordinary legislative procedure of the EU, the European Council and Parliament have, at least formally, equal authority over the content of legislative proposals, but in the case of the GDPR, the end result was much closer to that of the Council.

According to Hildén, the result is doubly problematic from the perspective of the legitimacy of the legislative procedure.

“First of all, the Council emphasised national exceptions and financial interests at the expense of civil rights. Furthermore, there is very little public knowledge on the Council’s meetings with lobbyists,” Hildén notes.

The identities of the lobbyists consulted by the government ministers of EU member states are not known, but based on the proposed amendments, less attention was paid to the viewpoints of civil society.

“The pattern appears to be resurfacing in the legislative procedure of the ePrivacy Regulation,” says Hildén.

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Jockum Hildén, MSocSc, will defend his doctoral dissertation entitled "The Politics of Datafication – The influence of lobbyists on the EU’s data protection reform and its consequences for the legitimacy of the General Data Protection Regulation” on 8 November 2019 at 12.00 at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki. The public examination will take place in room 302 of the Athena building (Siltavuorenpenger 3 A, Helsinki).

Professor Seamus Simpson from the University of Salford will serve as the opponent and Professor Mervi Pantti as the custos.

The dissertation will be published in the series Publications of the Faculty of Social Sciences.

The dissertation is also available in electronic form through the E-thesis service.

Contact details of the doctoral candidate:
Jockum Hildén
Phone: +358 50 341 0462
Email: jockum.hilden@helsinki.fi