On May 12, 2009, the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) released a much anticipated report authored by the RAND Corporation assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the 1995 EU Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC) (the "Directive), the main source of privacy legislation in Europe. While the report highlighted a number of the Directive’s positive attributes, it nonetheless concluded that as society becomes more globally networked, "the Directive as it stands will not suffice in the long term."
Specifically, the report found fault with the current practice of notification of data processing under the Directive. Each EU Member State has its own system of notification procedures, resulting in high costs for organizations who may need to notify several EU jurisdictions. The report did not mince words, finding that the hodge-podge of notification procedures "can have a crippling impact on the effectiveness of the [notification] obligation, as obligations which are perceived as excessive, unnecessary or ineffective are more likely to be ignored in practice."
The Report also criticized one of the most well-known features of the Directive, the international transfer obligation of data controllers. Under the Directive, an organization may only transfer personal data outside the EU if the recipient entity is located in a jurisdiction that ensures "an adequate level of protection" or if the organization adopts a transfer mechanism such as the Safe Harbor self-certification program, model (standard) contractual clauses, or Binding Corporate Rules. The Report observed that stakeholders were of the opinion that "distinguishing between countries inside and outside the EU was unnecessary and counter-productive in the modern world. For multi-national organisations operating across boundaries but applying the same high standards of data protection across all geographical divisions, this mechanism made no sense and was seen as contrary to harmonisation and global trade." The report also found that the enforcement of the various EU member states’ data protection authorities was inconsistent.
While the Report outlined a number of criticisms, it was not completely negative. The Report noted that the Directive’s "principles-based" framework fostered flexibility and that the legislation had served to improve awareness of privacy concerns, and that it was "technology" neutral. These positive attributes aside, the report is nonetheless a frank assessment of the Directive and should serve as an impartial catalyst for updating the Directive to make it consistent with current practices and modern expectations.