U.K. Seeks to Block EU Data-Protection Plans That ‘Burden’ Firms

Britain will encourage other European Union nations to block plans to tighten data-protection rules, arguing the proposals risk burdening business and destroying jobs, said Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.

“This is a debate to my mind about how much and how far can Europe continue to impose costs on business,” Grayling said in an interview at his London office late yesterday. “The EU is unrealistic if it believes that imposing extra costs on business is not going to drive companies and jobs out of the EU in a world that is extraordinarily competitive.”

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding presented plans in January 2012 to overhaul data-protection rules. The move would give Internet users more control over their personal data and allow for the first time all EU data-protection watchdogs to fine companies as much as 2 percent of annual global sales for “intentionally or negligently” violating the rules. The plans will be debated again in Luxembourg on Oct. 7.

Grayling spoke as the Conservatives prepare to gather in Manchester, northern England, for their annual conference on Sept. 29. The party is seeking to demonstrate its euroskeptic credentials on new fronts after losing support to the U.K. Independence Party, which campaigns for withdrawal from the 28-nation bloc.

Describing the European Commission plans as “unrealistically complicated,” Grayling called for a delay to consider the risks. He also said his party wants to curtail the role of European human rights legislation in favor of a law better suited to the U.K.

Facebook, Google

Reding says the rules would also apply to U.S. companies such as Facebook Inc. and Google Inc. The new protections would “refresh” an existing EU data-protection law that dates back to 1995, she has argued.

Also proposed is a harmonized approach by the separate watchdogs in the EU to avoid lengthy proceedings at the end of which companies are faced with varying decisions from regulators.

Grayling said the data plans should be an EU directive rather than a regulation to allow flexibility for member states. The current proposals are “not nearly carefully enough drafted” he said. They should not be “rushed through” before European elections next year.

“My fear about data protection is the commission is trying to shape legislation about its perception about what needs to happen to a small group of multinational information firms and forgetting that the impact of this will be profound for small and medium-sized European businesses,” he said.

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