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Europe Data Protection Digest | Notes from the IAPP Europe Managing Director, 9 February 2018 Related reading: FTC's Chopra: 'Enforcing the law should mean something'

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Greetings from Brussels!

This week’s headline grabber was undoubtedly the appointment of Andrea Jelinek, head of the Austrian data protection authority, as the new chair of the Article 29 Working Party. The sitting chairwoman, Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, who doubles as the head of France’s data protection agency, the CNIL, stepped down Wednesday having been at the helm since 2014. Falque-Pierrotin announced the new appointment during the WP29 press conference; Jed Bracy gave a thorough account of Wednesday’s press conference in his article for The Privacy Advisor.

With her election, Jelinek is also likely to become the first chair of the European Data Protection Board, when the GDPR enters into force 25 May. The WP29 will hold another vote in May, as a matter of course, when the current body will officially become the EDPB. It is expected that the May vote will be largely symbolic, and Jelinek will stay in the role to become its first chairperson. Importantly, the GDPR elevates the WP29 into a fully fledged EU body, which will have its own secretariat and increased powers to coordinate national authorities working on international cases and provide guidance and recommendations for developing and enforcing EU privacy policy. Falque-Pierrotin spoke to the tremendous efforts — both quantitative and qualitative — undertaken by the WP29 over the last four years and applauded the commitments of the national member state regulators to more cooperation, as well as the co-regulatory approach adopted towards EU stakeholders to bring about effective, uniform, and pragmatic guidance in the field of privacy and data protection. She also spoke to the transformation of the WP29 from a group of national experts into the robust policy-making network and group we see today.

The new chief EU privacy watchdog said Wednesday that she will defend data protection and support Europeans in their “fight for their rights.” She also remarked that there is still work to be done to further unite the European watchdogs ahead of the GDPR coming into force.

I spoke to Rocco Panetta, IAPP country leader for Italy and member of the IAPP board of directors, who reflected on a certain "coming of age" for the WP29. He commented that in the last 20 years, chairpersons of the WP29 were appointed from within the "exclusive" club of the six founding member states of the EU, from the Dutch Peter Hustinx to the Italian Stefano Rodota, from the German Peter Schaar to the French Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin. With this appointment — perhaps intentional — there is an important political message to the EU and beyond. This will not have gone unnoticed in broader European circles, and indeed, it will be well received in many quarters. Panetta added that with EU diversity across the member states in culture and tradition, Jelinek will bring a new energy and a continued rigor to the WP29 in this important transitional period, spearheading the group into the EDPB in the best possible way in the coming years.

I also spoke with Yann Padova, IAPP Country Leader for France, who similarly noted that it was interesting that an Austrian was elected. With Austria and Germany presently being the only two countries to have modified their national legal framework to comply with GDPR, the WP29 is leading by example in this appointment. Padova also remarked that while Austria and its DPA are arguably not well known yet, the country has a stringent approach towards data protection issues, possibly one of the strongest advocates of citizen rights to privacy in the EU. Moreover, for famous national personalities there is the larger-than-life activist Max Schrems, who needs no introduction. Padova felt that with the ECJ ruling of 25 January, the Austrian DPA may well find itself in the spotlight both at the local as well at international level.

Not an easy role to fill, but notably a lot of foundational work has been done over the last years by the collective of member state authorities under Falque-Pierrotin’s guiding hand. Jelinek inherits a group that is on the cusp of a new age, with real weight and enforcement power. Her ability to lead binding co-decisions will be the true test for the future. We wish her all the best.

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