EDPS hopes to become 'centre of gravity for data protection'

The European data protection supervisor tells the Parliament Magazine that his mandate 'will be characterised by a more proactive role'.

By Julie Levy-Abegnoli

16 Feb 2015

As the European institutions scramble to update EU data protection rules - the current directive dates back to 1995 - there is one person who must ensure that any use of personal data by these bodies respects people's right to privacy. 

Giovanni Buttarelli was appointed European data protection supervisor (EDPS) by parliament and the council last December. Having previously served as assistant EDPS, he also worked as the secretary general of the Italian data protection authority between 1997 and 2009.

The EDPS must work with data protection officers in each EU body and advise the institutions on how to best process personal data. Buttarelli explains that he and his team "are equally close to the three main institutions, we advise them at different stages".

He says he will "adopt a strategic plan by 2 March, which will focus on our vision for our mandate and identify key issues - not only in terms of objectives, but also how we would like to approach certain issues". 

"We [Buttarelli and the assistant EDPS Wojciech Wiewiórowski] would like to be an important contact point at international level"

Having only started his five year term a few months ago, the Italian official is full of hopes and aspirations for his new mandate. He tells the Parliament Magazine that, "the role of the new data protection supervisor will be characterised by a more proactive role", adding that he intends to "interact more as a problem solver with innovative thinking and also by providing not simply formal opinions, but also specific recommendations [the institutions] can more easily take on board".

Additionally, he hopes to "count more [and] be a centre of gravity for data protection, not only by being vocal but also by being influential. We [Buttarelli and the assistant EDPS Wojciech Wiewiórowski] would like to be an important contact point at international level".

The former law professor is likely to have a key role to play as the EU works on updating its data protection regulation. He plans to "issue a position paper with full respect of what both parliament and council establish in terms of political will", but warns that "everything is down to the details - each word can change a lot. An expert voice from our side is not only appreciated, but needed".

And while he does not have the power to legislate, he did highlight that controversial measures such as the European passenger name record system need to be studied very carefully before being implemented.

"As an institution we are not a regulator, but we have the expertise", he says, "the question is not to be for or against PNR, but [I strongly urge] the legislators to consider that this is an important test for EU institutions in terms of lessons learned". He adds that "we need to understand to what extent this is this right solution to the specific problems we have in terms of security".

Moreover, he says he "would appreciate that Europe speaks with one voice on data protection - not necessarily the EDPS', but we would like to contribute to a single position. This is what the world expects from us".


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