Director at Belgium's Data Protection Authority resigns in protest over a 'lack of independence'

Director at Belgium's Data Protection Authority resigns in protest over a 'lack of independence'
Credit: Unsplash/Chris Robert

One of the five directors at Belgium’s Data Protection Authority (GBA) is resigning amid questioning from the European Commission, citing the same “lack of independence” that the Commission also lists among its top concerns.

Alexandra Jaspar is leaving her post at the Knowledge Centre of the privacy watchdog, according to De Tijd and other Belgian media, where she helped screen legislative proposals for privacy issues and ensure that citizens' personal data are protected.

“I have done everything to prevent the conflict of interests and the lack of integrity, but everyone lets it go. I do not want to be an accomplice in this,” said Jaspar.

'Wearing two hats'

The European Commission declared in June that “some members of the Belgian Data Protection Authority cannot currently be considered free of external influence, as they either report to a management committee dependent on the Belgian Government, have participated in government projects to trace COVID-19 contacts, or are members of the Information Security Committee.”

The independence of the Data Protection Authority in Belgium therefore cannot be guaranteed, the Commission says, which goes against the European privacy legislation (GDPR).

Jaspar’s explanation for her resignation seems to confirm those findings. She said that her job is impossible because some members of the GBA “wear two hats,” which makes for a conflict of interests when it comes to safeguarding Belgians’ data privacy.

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She also said her department is being thwarted by GBA’s chairman and director David Stevens, whose close contacts with government members means that the privacy watchdog is more lenient with government agencies.

The GBA is managed by five directors and a rotating presidency, a structure which critics say encourages conflicts of interest. The Commission has already given Belgium a warning that some GBA “members are not free of external influence” and has threatened further action if the matter is not addressed.

At the Knowledge Centre in particular, the sensitive role of the top civil servant is occupied by Frank Robben, who is also a director of government social security platforms.

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