Could the threat of much tighter restrictions on the use of data be thwarted from a most unlikely source - Germany? UK companies tend to assume that the Data Protection Regulation proposals bear the stamp of Berlin all over them. In many respects that is true, since at a Federal level there appears to be political support for more stringent requirements being applied.
Yet that may not be the whole story or lead inevitably to the adoption of the regulations. Björn Bloching, co-author of the new book In Data We Trust (Bloomsbury Publishing), believes that German state legislatures are offering much greater resistance to revised data protection rules.
Speaking at the book’s launch on 24th September, he pointed out that the Mittelstand of German SMEs, which are the economic engine of the country through their productivity and innovation, lag far behind when it comes to data management. While Germany may have a better economic climate than the rest of the European Union, politicians will not want to impose any fresh obligations that put a brake on this sector.
This view of the potential impact on industry connects with a shift in German politics that may happen in the next two years. Bloching noted that the “yellow/black” coalition between the CDU/CSU and FDP which has held power since 2009 looks set to come to an end. If these parties lose power at the next election in September 2013, Chancellor Angela Merkel will lose her position and with her will go many of the European-focused policies she has pursued.
A more German-oriented view of the world could emerge and with it a sense that the country needs to do what is right for its own economy and industry. That could well include voting down tougher data protection when the proposals go in front of the European Parliament, which seems likely to happen in early 2014.
That runs counter to the view held by many in the UK that the regulation is inevitable and has deep support in key parts of Europe. Much of the discussion in this country assumes that we will have to level up to the standards which already apply in Spain or Germany.
Hearing that other countries have seen what might happen under the new rules and also fear for their impact is highly encouraging. It means that the arguments which have been made by the Direct Marketing Association and British Bankers Association, among others, are not an isolated, purely British point of view.
Nothing is certain in politics, of course. But approving the regulation is ultimately a political decision and will reflect the parties sitting in the European Parliament at the time. If their political masters back home tell them to give new data protection laws the thumbs down, that is what will happen.
It could be the first time that the outcome of a German general election needs to be on your radar, but next year could prove critical for the future of your data strategy.