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Firms brace for new European data privacy law

Kevin J. O'Brien | May 14, 2013
The effort in Europe to adopt the world's strongest data protection law has drawn the attention of dozens of lobbyists from US technology and advertising companies.

The lead parliamentary committee for the bill is struggling to schedule more than 3,000 amendments to the proposal and has already pushed back a vote from the end of this month until June. Negotiators in the upper house of Parliament are at odds over basic concepts, like the requirement for businesses to obtain prior consent before collecting web data and proposed penalties for violators, which would be set at up to 2 percent of a company's annual sales.

"I think at this point, there will be a set of new rules, they will be uniform, and they will raise the level of data protection from where it is now," said Thomas Lehnert, the director of data protection for EADS Deutschland, who participated in the conference.

EADS, which employs eight full-time data protection officers in 17 countries, may have to hire many more such officers in almost all of its jurisdictions, he said. "I think we are talking about a multiple of what we have now," Mr. Lehnert said.

US interest in the European deliberations remains significant. About a third of the data-protection officials attending the conference were representatives of US-based companies. Exxon Mobil, Aon, Amway and Procter & Gamble were present, as were the global law firms of Hogan Lovells, Taylor Wessing and Latham & Watkins.

Other countries are watching as well. Lawmakers in South Africa are in the final stages of completing a six-year effort to create the country's first comprehensive data protection laws, which will be tailored to the new EU rules, said Robby Coelho, a lawyer at Webber Wentzel, a law firm in Johannesburg.

"South Africa wants to have internationally recognised data protection standards to attract businesses to the country," Mr Coelho said.

Likewise in the Middle East, the overseers of international free trade zones in Qatar and Dubai plan to adopt data protection laws that mirror European rules, said Justin Cornish, a lawyer at Latham & Watkins in Dubai, who also attended the Berlin conference.

"There is an expectation that data protection laws around the world are going to become more stringent, and Europe is leading the way," Mr Cornish said.


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