Data protection rules must reflect reality

The heightened terror threat shows that protecting our citizens is a primary consideration for data protection legislation, argues Axel Voss.

By Axel Voss

Axel Voss (DE, EPP) is a member of Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee

07 Dec 2015

As it currently stands, the data protection directive is moving into the wrong direction. 

This piece of legislation is supposed to provide a clear set of rules for competent authorities, providing guidance on how they can move personal data to prevent, investigate, detect or prosecute criminal offences and enforce penalties.

In principle, the idea behind establishing such a law is a good one. However, my political group has been highly sceptical about the data protection directive proposal from the outset. In addition, the proposal has been further undermined by the left-wing majority in the European Parliament.


This is why the EPP group voted against this directive both in committee and in plenary in 2014. The text creates major bureaucratic burdens for security staff. In fact, when they are processing personal data for the purpose of prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of criminal offences and terrorist activities, to all intents they become data protection officers rather than law enforcement personnel.

Normally, a single legal instrument should cover police and law enforcement activities. The trilogue negotiations on the directive are improving the text compared with the outcome of the first reading. 

However, the scope of the general data protection regulation and the data protection directive is now such that they overlap; this is a major concern.

It is important that we keep in mind that the law enforcement sector has specific operational needs and that we have to adapt to these. 

The terrorist attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015 have shown how much we need urgently effective legislation to be able to respond to the threats to the EU citizens and the public.

I have proposed a period of reflection, to consider how this legislation could fi t to emergency situation like this.

We should rightly question whether this tool is genuinely effective and how well it will work in emergency situation such as those recently experienced in Paris. Indeed, the Paris terrorist attacks have reminded us that the security of our citizens must take precedence over the demands of bureaucracy.

It is of utmost importance that the authorities can exchange data to prevent and investigate criminal activities. Our police officers and judicial authorities must be empowered to act immediately to prevent them losing valuable time.

Clearly, police and judicial procedures and cooperation between the law enforcement authorities must respect the relevant data protection rules.

Nevertheless, any cooperation should not be unnecessarily hampered by red tape that sets too high a barrier for data and information rights. It is now time to begin to negotiate a text that reflects this reality.


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