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Helen Dixon refused to attend EU parliament session alongside Max Schrems

Data Protection Commissioner said debate would be ‘wholly inappropriate’ while legal action is still live

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Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon. Photo: Mark Condren

Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon. Photo: Mark Condren

Campaigner: Data privacy activist and lawyer Max Schrems Photo: Lisi Niesner/Reuters

Campaigner: Data privacy activist and lawyer Max Schrems Photo: Lisi Niesner/Reuters

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Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon. Photo: Mark Condren

Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon refused to attend a European Parliament committee meeting if it meant answering questions alongside privacy campaigner Max Schrems.

Such a session would be “wholly inappropriate” pending the outcome of a legal action involving both the DPC and Max Schrems, Ms Dixon said.

In a blistering letter sent on March 16, the head of Ireland’s privacy watchdog also accused members of the committee of making up their minds against her agency in advance a scheduled meeting.

The letter has been published on the DPC website alongside other correspondence. Ms Dixon, citing media reports, said the committee’s so-called ‘Shadow Rapporteurs’ – members drawn from the main political groupings who tend to do the heavy lifting on such committees – had already drafted a criticism of her agency before hearing from her.

The Irish data chief had asked for a chance to speak to the European Parliament’s civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee, known as the LIBE Committee, to respond to criticism.

But when the committee proposed a session for Thursday, March 18, to also include Max Schrems and Andrea Jelinek, chair of the European Data Protection Board, Ms Dixon refused the invitation.

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Campaigner: Data privacy activist and lawyer Max Schrems Photo: Lisi Niesner/Reuters

Campaigner: Data privacy activist and lawyer Max Schrems Photo: Lisi Niesner/Reuters

Campaigner: Data privacy activist and lawyer Max Schrems Photo: Lisi Niesner/Reuters

Max Schrems is an Austrian data privacy campaigner whose long-running complaints in relation to Facebook have forced wide-ranging changes to the EU’s data-protection regime including protections for personal information being shipped to the US. He is also an outspoken critic of Ireland’s data protection enforcement and is involved in a legal action with the DPC, which Ms Dixon said means she should not enter what was likely to be a debate.

“Pending the delivery of the Court’s judgment, it is not open to me – and, indeed, it would be wholly inappropriate – to enter into some form of debate with Mr Schrems in an alternative forum, in connection with proceedings that remain live.” she said.

She also blasted LIBE’s proposed procedures to hold the session as “deeply objectionable”.

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“The Committee has already taken it upon itself to unfairly and unreasonably single out my office for explicit criticism without first hearing from me, and where such criticisms must, logically, be intended to be the subject of our exchanges,” Ms Dixon wrote.

In response, LIBE chair Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar said the purpose of the proposed meeting was not to have a direct exchange among the speakers. However in a follow-up email Ms Dixon said she would not attend such a session.

The latest letters indicating a deteriorating relationship between the DPC and European law makers comes just a day after Germany’s privacy watchdog claimed Ireland had failed to close any of 50 data protection complaints it forwarded against WhatsApp.

That claim was made in an unpublished letter from Germany’s top privacy enforcer Ulrich Kelber to the LIBE Committee. He wrote it after Ms Dixon compared Ireland’s data protection regime favourably to other regulators, including Germany’s.

“It is equally of note that several fines levied by supervisory authorities in Germany have been reduced or set aside by the courts of that jurisdiction in recent months,” she wrote in her March 12 letter.

In his letter, dated March 16 and also seen by the Irish Independent, the head of Germany’s federal Data Protection Commission told MEPs that agency has sent more than 50 complaints about WhatsApp to the Irish data authority since 2018 with none closed so far.

He also denied Helen Dixon’s position that no other supervisory authority moved to implement the implications of Schrems II.

“This statement by Ms Dixon is simply wrong,” he wrote.


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