This session of the L(S)STS gatherings will be animated by Franck Dumortier and we will discuss "Independent DPAs in practice: The case of Belgium".
In the context of the management of the COVID-19 pandemic, Belgian newspapers regularly published articles focusing on the right to privacy and its supervision by the national Data Protection Authority. In parallel, the Belgian Parliament held discussions on potential conflicts of interest beared by members of the Authority and finally decided to charge the Belgian Court of Audit to verify that the institution operates in an independent, impartial and transparent manner. At EU level, after having received similar complaints, the Commissioner for Justice initiated the preliminary stages of an infringement procedure against our flat country. Recently, the Secretary of State has announced the review of the Privacy law(s).
In addition to personal and political factors, several legal and institutional reasons might explain the renewed interest of the Belgian media and parliament for the right to privacy. Firstly, the COVID-19 crisis led to the setting up of centralized and sensitive databases for the purposes of contact tracing, testing, vaccination and monitoring of (un)authorized travels. All these data processing activities are based on the data subjects’ social security identification number, a unique identifier of the Belgian citizen which offers multiple cross-checking possibilities. Secondly, in some of these data processing activities, the Information Security Committee – a body which is not part of the DPA – received the competence to further determine essential elements, undetermined by law, by way of deliberations. These two first points were heavily criticized by the Knowledge Center of the DPA which is charge of drawing up opinions on legislative proposals. In this general context, a third element to take into account is that, due to federal structure of the kingdom, the national DPA is not the unique body allowed to provide opinions on legislative proposals. Indeed, supervisory bodies of federate entities, such as the “Vlaamse Toezicht Commissie” or the “Commission de contrôle bruxelloise” may also give their opinions. The interplay between these various bodies is currently being challenged in front of the Council of State.
The session will take place on Friday April 23th between 12.00-13.30. A reaction will be provided by Hielke Hijmans (in personal capacity) and the session will be moderated by Serge Gutwirth.
For more information on L(S)STS sessions, see here.