Reding [sic] the tea-leaves

In Jose Manuel Barroso’s recent reshuffle of the European Commission, there were a couple of moves which bear some further inspection, from a privacy/identity perspective.

The former Commissioner for Information Society, Viviane Reding, is promoted to one of the Vice Presidents of the Commission, and given a new portfolio as Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. She has also been given the task of overhauling the Data Protection Directive (now 15 years old…).

Her former role passes to Neelie Kroes, who was previously Competition Commissioner (and oversaw, for instance, some of the Commission’s fiercest battles with Microsoft – on media player bundling, IE/Windows bundling, publication of technical interoperability documentation, Microsoft Office “Open” XML, and so on, and so forth…).

She has a reputation for being able to dive into the detailed technicalities of a brief, and for being extremely tenacious in pushing towards her intended goal.

There’s no doubt in my mind that, had the task of reviewing and revising the Data Protection Directive been left on the Commissioner’s desk at DG InfoSoc, Dr Kroes could have taken it on with competence and determination… which leads me to wonder what the implications are of Commissioner Reding taking it with her to her new role.

With the background of her four years heading DG InfoSoc, Commissioner Reding should have all the subject-matter expertise needed to make a proficient job of revising the Directive. However, what is perhaps more significant is the departmental context in which she will now undertake that work.

Instead of doing it from within DG InfoSoc, she will now do it in the same DG as is responsible for programmes such as this; the development of a framework for a European society based on notions of fundamental rights and rights derived from EU citizenship.

That suggests to me that, if anything, the revised DP Directive will be founded on even stronger links to notions of fundamental human rights and the social/citizenship context.

I foresee some lively discussions of principle between the EU and its partners, particularly where those partners either take a different view of what are fundamental rights, or of how great a role they should play in determining policy on the processing of personal data.

If Commissioner Reding wished to live in interesting times, I think her wish may have been granted.

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