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Data Protection Lobby-tomy 1: Influencing the Dutch government

The new European data protection regulation is the most lobbied piece of legislation in Europe thus far because the subject is very important and touches upon almost every aspect of our daily lives. That’s why we used the Dutch freedom of information act to ask the government to publicize all the lobby documents they received on this new law. We published these documents with our analysis in English in a series of blogs for EDRi. This series of blogs has also been combined in one report. What parties lobby? What do they want? What does that mean for you?

The European privacy law is huge
Information plays a central role in our society. Every action you take leaves an information trail related to you personally: personal data. Meanwhile, almost every company and organization works with information and those are often also personal data. Progressive digitization only increases the amount of personal data processed. This makes rules on the processing of personal data incredibly important.

In Brussels there have been negotiations for years about the new data protection regulation, that aims to replace all the national privacy legislation and to enhance data protection levels. It won’t come as a surprise that this new law is big and important. The 201 page law touches the lives of millions of people and all kinds of companies and organizations.

A lobbyist feeding frenzy
The law was therefore a feast for lobbyists. Even before the European Commission proposed the law in 2012, US-American companies were making lobby phone calls to Commission employees and using other channels to exert pressure. Former European Commissioner Reding called it the most aggressive lobbying campaign she had ever encountered.

Afterwards, the European Parliament was flooded with the largest lobby offensive in her political history. The website lobbyplag (an initiative by Europe v. Facebook) showed that some of the amendments proposed by American lobbyists were copied word for word by European politicians. Apart from that, ‘astroturf’ groups were active: organisations that claimed to be independent organisations, like the European Privacy Association were caught breaking lobby transparency rules and had to change their entry in the lobby register (rumored to be connected to Google, Microsoft and Yahoo – according to this Dutch fragment of Reporter Radio on the lobby in Brussels). Despite all of this, Members of the European Parliament eventually adopted a text which would offer citizens more more protections against unfair data processing.

Unfortunately, representatives of national governments took a very different approach and left few of those protections in their proposed text. In particular, they aimed to undermine the protection of citizens in the context of profiling and big data.

The lobby-freedom of information request
We were therefore very curious about the lobby offensive at the level of government. So using the Dutch freedom of information act (called Wet Openbaarheid van Bestuur) we asked for all  the lobby documents on this subject at the ministries of Economic Affairs, Security and Justice and the permanent representation to the EU (that negotiates on behalf of the Dutch government in the EU).

The Lobby-tomy
These lobby documents were then sent to us by the Dutch government and we gladly published them on our website. They show what kind of organizations have tried to influence the Dutch government and what their positions are. In these blogs we provide some insight. What kind of organizations are lobbying? What are the most important themes that constantly surface? What kind of arguments are used?

This way, we try to give an impression about the lobby behind the scenes. We obviously don’t have all the information. We for example lack information about phone calls or what has been said in-between meetings. This document deals with the lobby documents only, which also contain emails. We invite anyone to read along as we go on.

This introduction will be followed by a series of blogs that have been published on our website. These blogs will be included in the following EDRi—grams. In these blogs we will at times refer to lobby documents that are in a database on our website (we will also specify the URL so you can read them yourselves – although some of the documents are in Dutch). That database contains a list with all the lobbying parties and all the documents they have sent. Our next article will be about the most important topics addressed in the lobby documents.

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