On January 5, 2015, Giovanni Buttarelli, the recently-appointed European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), published an editorial outlining his policy goals for 2015 and beyond. The editorial, entitled “Big Data, Big Challenges,” focuses largely on the individual’s “fundamental rights” to control his or her personal data. In particular, Supervisor Buttarelli urges the adoption of the Data Protection Reform policy proposed by the European Commission in 2012. In a video posted on the EDPS website, Supervisor Buttarelli states that he will “use [his] powers of persuasion so far as possible to encourage data protection.”

The Data Protection Reform that Supervisor Buttarelli supports is the topic of active negotiation in Europe (see here for an article describing the latest issues). The reform focuses on the individual’s “right to be forgotten” and requiring the informed consent of users before processing data or transporting data across borders.

Supervisor Buttarelli’s comments and the proposed reform relate both to the business community and to government surveillance. “Last year saw the European Union flex its muscles in this area with significant European Court of Justice rulings.” It remains to be seen what effect, if any, the January 7 terrorist attack in France might have on EU policy with respect to government surveillance.

Supervisor Buttarelli and Assistant Supervisor Wojciech Wiewiórowski took office on December 4, 2014, and each will serve a five-year term. The office of EDPS was established in 2004 and is vested with “supervisory,” “consultative,” and “cooperative” roles in assisting European Union institutions and bodies with data protection and privacy issues. While the EDPS does not have a direct legislative role, it influences EU policy by issuing formal opinions, monitoring and inspecting EU institutions for compliance, and coordinating with national data protection bodies to enforce EU policy.

While the EDPS’s role in the policymaking process is indirect, Supervisor Buttarelli’s comments signal a willingness to use the office’s influence to effect reform and a continuing focus on, and robust enforcement of, European Union restrictions on the use of private information. This first initiative might be a hint as to Supervisor Buttarelli’s goals for the remainder of his term.