NEWS2 June 2009

German data protection bill on hold

Europe Government Legal

GERMANY— A decision on amendments to Germany’s data protection bill, which researchers fear could put massive restrictions on their use of personal data, is now not expected until after this autumn’s federal election.

Wolfgang Dittrich, chairman of research association BVM, told Research he understands the two parties that form Germany’s ruling coalition have been unable to reach an agreement on the bill, putting it on hold until after the election in September.

Representatives of the research industry have warned that the bill, which would prohibit the use of personal data for marketing or research without the subject’s prior consent, would make it impossible for researchers to do their jobs. Even the use of randomly generated telephone numbers and random route sampling for door-to-door research would be at risk, they warned.

However, Dittrich said he remains confident that proposed amendments will be taken on board. Regional representatives in the country’s federal council submitted their comment on the bill in February, calling on the government to consider clarifying the rules to protect market and opinion research from restrictions designed to control direct marketing.

Dittrich told <I>Research</I>: “In all our discussions with the government and the parties we've seen how all the important decision-makers actually agree that market research must not be obstructed. In a functioning democracy you need to be able to find out people’s opinions, and when you can't even use random samples anymore you can't get that sort of information. That means no political research, no consumer confidence data…”

He does not believe there was ever an intention to restrict research. He explained: “It was an oversight, really. They wanted to prevent other things – people being disturbed by direct marketing and so on. The lawmakers just didn't really understand how market research works. Now they do.”