European Commission questions independence of Belgium’s Data Protection Authority

European Commission questions independence of Belgium’s Data Protection Authority
Credit: Belga

The European Commission is investigating whether some members of the Data Protection Authority in Belgium, formerly known as the Privacy Commission, work with sufficient independence.

Proceedings were already launched against Belgium in June, reports VRT, but according to the Commission there was no response and therefore a second step in the procedure will now be taken.

The European Commission says “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.”

According to the Commission, the independence of the Data Protection Authority in Belgium is therefore not guaranteed, and this goes against the European privacy legislation (GDPR).

Belgium was then given two months to take action after the proceedings launched in June, but “Belgium’s response did not address the issues raised in the letter of formal notice and the members concerned have remained in their positions,” the European Commission says.

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A “reasoned opinion” has now been sent, and Belgium has another two months to take the appropriate measures. If the country fails to do so, the Commission may refer the matter to the European Court of Justice.

Questions will be asked of the external members of the Data Protection Authority, including top civil servant Frank Robben, who, from his various positions, is involved in setting up and running government data projects, which – in his capacity as a member of the Data Protection Authority – he himself also co-controls.

Earlier this year, Robben was already questioned about his various positions and said that he correctly handles possible conflicts of interest, a defense he is repeating now despite the fact that he says he is not holding on to his position.

The European Commission expects action from Belgium’s Parliament, which will discuss the issue next week.

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