The European Data Protection Supervisor has issued advice to European Union institutions on how to strike a balance between providing access to documents that contain personal data and keeping this data secure.
Peter Hustinx said that the guidance comes in light of a ruling made by the European Court of Justice which found that the European Commission was right to refuse the release of information on the attendees of a meeting that was requested by the Bavarian Lager Company.
Hustinx has updated his position on this issue following the ruling, and recommended EU institutions to make clear in advance what types of data can be subject to public disclosures.
This will ensure that those who could be affected are well informed and able to invoke their right to data protection, and will reduce the administrative burdens on institutions when dealing with requests for data from the public.
Hustinx also encouraged the development of clear policies, such as a presumption of openness for certain personal data like documents that contain personal data relating to a public figure acting in their public capacity.
Hustinx explained that the issue affected organisations at an EU level and within member states, and urged them to realise that data protection does not simply mean withholding information.
"While the fundamental right to data protection must be respected by the institutions, care should be taken that data protection is not used as a pretext for not being transparent," he said.
"This is detrimental to good governance and not in the interest of data protection either. The EU administration should therefore give the right example. Our analysis has shown that a proactive approach serves all interests best."
Hustinx said that the guidance will be updated regularly in light of developments in European case law and lessons learned from good practices.
He also called for changes to the rules on public access to information to be brought in sooner rather than later by the EC.
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