With Peter Schaar leaving the position of German Federal Data Protection Commissioner on December 17 after 10 years of service, the coalition German government comprising the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Christian Democratic Union (the CDU – Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party) needed to nominate a replacement for confirmation in the German Parliament, the Bundestag.
As part of the grand coalition agreement, the CDU was given the right to make a nomination and chose Andrea Voßhoff, a member of the CDU who served in the Bundestag from 1998 through 2013. She was confirmed December 19 in the Bundestag, gaining 403 of 585 valid votes.
Voßhoff is generally unknown to the privacy community but did vote for a number of pieces of legislation to which Schaar objected. Further, German MEP Jan Philip Albrecht strenuously objected to her nomination, saying on Twitter that her confirmation would amount to an “abolition” of the office.
Regardless, said Jörg Hladjk, counsel at Hunton & Williams and German-qualified attorney with a German PhD in privacy, Voßhoff enters her role with three main challenges that will face her during her initial five-year term.
First, he said, it’s likely the German parliament will soon take up again privacy legislation for the workplace, something that’s been tabled a few times while the EU’s draft Data Protection Regulation has been circulating but which is gaining momentum again. “That will be a challenge as to where she will position herself,” Hladjk said, “and how she will deal with it.”
Further, her second real challenge is the proposed regulation, itself, as “the stakeholders in Brussels will look to Germany to facilitate the discussion.”
In the recent council meeting, he noted, “Germany was one of the main drivers in slowing down the process,” along with the UK and France. Specifically, the Germans are concerned with the “one-stop shop” portion of the proposed regulation and “want to be able to be involved and tell companies, ‘This is the line you don’t cross.’”
“Because Schaar was quite visible in the discussion,” Hladjk said, “and because I think Germany’s quite important in the whole process, with its tradition, its expertise, the powerful 16 DPAs, plus the office at federal level, I think [Voßhoff] will be looked to for how she might influence the process.”
Finally, he said, “she’ll be expected to position herself in context of the ongoing surveillance discussion—it’s not gone. It’s still out there, and every month we learn new facts. And Schaar has been very vocal about it.” How will Voßhoff influence Germany’s position on law-enforcement access to privacy data and its response to the NSA revelations?
One other piece of note with Voßhoff’s appointment is that, as part of the agreement, Social Democrats will be responsible for aspects of data protection relating to consumers, as coordinated by the SPD-led Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection, while Voßhoff focuses on the public sector. The coalition plans to bring data protection for consumers into purview of the Stiftung Warentest, an independent institution for consumer protection. Of course, the 16 regional DPAs will continue to have authority over private corporations and consumer protection in their jurisdictions.
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