Candidates for EU's data protection job heard by the European Parliament

Europe is set to choose a new data protection supervisor after much delay

The European Union is finally moving to replace its data protection supervisor, after Members of the European Parliament interviewed the five candidates shortlisted for the roles of EU data protection supervisor and assistant supervisor on Monday.

A parliamentary committee is set to name its favorites for the posts on Tuesday evening, with one MEP on the committee tipping a Frenchman and a Pole for the roles based on their interview performances.

Replacing the supervisor is particularly important because the EU is in the middle of a data protection reform and the next European Commission, which is set to take its seat on Nov. 1, is planning to finalize negotiations on the EU's new data protection package within six months.

The EU is taking its time to find a replacement for Peter Hustinx, the current European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS). Hustinx was set to end his five year tenure on Jan. 16. and retire, but had to stay on when the European Commission was unable to find a candidate with the right qualities for the job.

On Monday night, the Parliamentary Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) spent three hours interviewing the five shortlisted candidates: Yann Padova and Noëlle Lenoir standing for the post of data protection supervisor; Giovanni Buttarelli, standing for the posts of supervisor and assistant supervisor, and Cinzia Bondi and Wojciech RafaB Wiewiórowski, standing for assistant supervisor.

The candidates answered questions about topics including the new data protection package, while also being asked how they would deal with external data protection deals such as the Safe Harbor data-sharing agreement with the U.S., said MEP Sophie in 't Veld, who attended the meeting. Candidates were also asked about the court ruling that gave European citizens the "right to be forgotten" by search engines, and about how they would deal with online surveillance issues, she said.

All were pretty strong candidates, but two stood out, In 't Veld said. While she wouldn't say who she favored, one of her fellow committee members, Jan Philipp Albrecht, an MEP for the Greens, wasn't so hesitant.

"The candidates who performed best were the Polish data protection officer Wiewiórowski and the candidate from France, Padova," Albrecht said, adding that he thought most of the LIBE committee agreed with him.

Padova was secretary-general of the French data protection authority, CNIL, between 2006 and 2012 and has worked as a data protection lawyer at an international law firm since then.

In his letter of application, Padova stressed the importance of an independent data protection supervisor. "The economic dimension of data protection is now more relevant than ever," he said, adding that personal data is the economy's new "black gold." He promised to be a fair and pragmatic yet firm supervisor if he got the job.

Padova seemed to be the most experienced with enforcement agencies, which is an important quality, Albrecht said.

Wiewiórowski applied for the assistant supervisor job and has been Inspector General for the Protection of Personal Data in Poland since 2010, representing Poland in the Article 29 Working Party (WP29), the umbrella group for European data protection authorities.

According to Albrecht, he knows by heart what he's talking about and knowledge of the WP29 is really important in times of data protection reform in Europe.

On Tuesday afternoon the LIBE committee will select its preferred candidates, and Parliament will hold its vote at a later date. Both In 't Veld and Albrecht said they hoped things can be wrapped up before the end of the year.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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