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26 June 2006

Ombudsman welcomes Commission move
towards better data protection

The European Ombudsman, P. Nikiforos Diamandouros, has welcomed the European Commission's move to review its interpretation of the Data Protection Directive. The Commission's decision could result in improved citizens' rights. A German citizen had complained to the Commission about the State of Hamburg. He stated that the public authorities unlawfully handed over personal data to enterprises, knowing that they would use them for direct marketing purposes. The Commission replied that the Directive did not provide any protection against this. After the Ombudsman's intervention, the Commission agreed to review its assessment.

The case

In 2004, the complainant submitted an infringement complaint to the Commission against the State of Hamburg. According to the complainant, the public authorities were handing over personal data to enterprises without informing the persons concerned, even when it was clear that the data would be used for direct marketing purposes. The complainant considered that this was in breach of the EU Data Protection Directive.

The Commission informed the complainant that the Directive did not cover this eventuality. In its view it only provided protection against public authorities using personal data for their own direct marketing purposes. The complainant turned to the Ombudsman alleging that the Commission was wrong.

Following an inquiry in which he consulted the European Data Protection Supervisor, the Ombudsman found that the Commission's interpretation of the Data Protection Directive was too narrow. The Ombudsman concluded that the Directive could also provide protection against decisions by public authorities to hand over personal data to enterprises, while knowing that they would be used for direct marketing purposes. In a proposal for a friendly solution, the Ombudsman therefore asked the Commission to review its interpretation of the Directive.

The Commission accepted the friendly solution, stating that it would address the issue with the Member States in order to improve national legislation in the field of data protection. Mr Diamandouros said: "This case illustrates how good cooperation between the Commission and the Ombudsman can result in a better protection of citizens' rights."

To read the full decision, please visit:

The European Ombudsman investigates complaints about maladministration in the EU institutions and bodies. Any EU citizen, resident, or an enterprise or association in a Member State, can lodge a complaint with the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman offers a fast, flexible and free means of solving problems with the EU administration. For more information:

For information about the case: Mr Peter Bonnor, Legal Officer, tel: +33 388 172541
For press inquiries: Ms Gundi Gadesmann, Press Officer, tel: +32 2 284 2609

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