Privacy Law May Get Kiss of Life as EU’s Justice Chief Sees Deal

Data-protection proposals pronounced dead in the personal blog of Google Inc.’s top privacy official may be resurrected after the European Union’s justice chief said negotiators pledged to pursue a deal this year.

The EU institutions in charge of the negotiations “have agreed on a road map to adopt the law before the end of the year,” EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding told reporters in Luxembourg today.

Reding’s comments come after EU nations applied the brakes to talks on a law that could empower regulators to fine companies as much as 100 million euros ($137 million) for privacy violations. The measures would affect U.S. firms from Google to Facebook Inc. Talks stalled on the law even as revelations emerged of widespread U.S. spying on world leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

EU government chiefs bowed in October to U.K. demands for a slowdown on the law, dropping a firm 2014 deadline for its adoption. Instead they vowed to introduce the plans in a “timely fashion,” allowing more time to consider the effect of the legislation on business.

Greece and Italy, the two nations that will share the rotating six-months EU presidency this year, last week discussed the draft law with Jan Philipp Albrecht, the European Parliament’s lead lawmaker on the proposals. They agreed on a time line for the coming months, Reding said.

Flawed Proposals

The assembly should adopt their text before May elections and governments are committed to reaching an agreement by June, Reding said. Discussions on the fine details between the two EU institutions could start in July so that a common text could be adopted before the end of the year.

“We cannot afford any more delay,” Albrecht, a German member of the EU parliament, said in an e-mail today.

Google’s Global Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer in a blog post earlier this month -- writing in his personal capacity -- said the EU’s “flawed” attempt to overhaul data-protection rules is “dead” and urged politicians to go back to the drawing board.

Reding said the revamped law is “important for citizens who are getting increasingly annoyed by how their personal data is being taken -- and also for European companies that are being pushed aside by companies that don’t abide by European rules.”

Mountain View, California-based Google earlier this month was fined 150,000 euros by France’s data protection watchdog, the highest that regulator can levy, for failing to give people enough details about how and why it uses their personal data.

‘Pocket Money’

This is “pocket money” for Google, Reding said in a speech on Jan. 19.

Reding said today that there are “a few” big U.S. companies “that refuse to stick to the law” in Europe. These “would face such solid sanctions under the new rules that it would hurt,” she said.

Governments and members of the European Parliament must agree on the final version of the rules before they can take effect. The changes would take effect in the different EU countries by 2015 at the latest, Reding said.

Al Verney, a spokesman for Google in Brussels, didn’t immediately respond to a call and e-mail seeking comment.

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