Editorial: Euro scare story or a real threat?

It is hard to predict what will come out of draft EU regulations on data protection, writes Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook
Stephen Cook

Last year there was a brief flap about how new EU rules might affect classic cars that have been modified with alloy wheels, for example, or modern windscreen wipers. Because the proposals mentioned preserving the originality of old marques, there were fears that such modifications meant the cars would fail the MOT test.

In fact there was no such threat, but this did not prevent the eventual acceptance of that fact being presented as a "victory for common sense" and a success for the UK's transport minister. It was - literally, in this case - a classic EU scare story.

Are we in similar territory over the draft EU regulation on data protection? Some fundraising specialists fear it will lead to a rigorous 'opt-in' system for direct mail by charities, the drastic shrinking of mailing lists and the potential loss of millions of pounds of income.

There is some uncertainty while the draft is still making its way through the slow and complex legislative process of the EU, which involves the commission, the parliament and the council of ministers. The proposals are designed to update and harmonise 1995 rules to take account of the explosion of internet use, and have attracted a record number of more than 4,000 amendments.

As reported in our analysis, the relevant commissioner and the rapporteur of the parliament's justice committee have given assurances that charities will be able to continue their current direct mailing practices, although there might be a modification to the rules on 'profiling'.

It would therefore be sensible for the Institute of Fundraising and the Direct Marketing Association to keep a wary eye on developments and continue to press their point of view on the commission and relevant British MEPs. It is hard to predict what will come out in the wash.

Behind the short-term concern lies the bigger imperative of making direct mail smarter and more targeted. Charities rely on it heavily, but it can be a bit of a blunt instrument, and at the moment it attracts half of all complaints about fundraising.

- Read our analysis

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