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Odds Favor Softer German Data Protection Law

WIESBADEN, Germany – The German government is expected to complete drafting a new data protection law later this month without a controversial provision demanding display of address sources on direct mail envelopes.

Dropping the provision from the law is seen as a major victory for a months-long, intensive lobbying campaign DDV, the German DMA, launched with strong membership support from local government all the way to Berlin.

DDV members engaged in a letter-writing drive to their local Bundestag (lower house of parliament) representatives, urging them to support elimination of the provision the industry feared could seriously damage DM practices.

The German association warned that public display of address sources could lead to massive migration of German direct marketers to neighboring EU countries with less draconian laws and the subsequent loss of 100,000 DM jobs.

Germany already suffers from one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe, so politicians are particularly sensitized to threats of further jobless increases.

The letter-writing campaign was launched Oct. 28 of last year and given extensive public exposure at the DIMA trade show held here in November.

Response from elected representatives was so positive that the DDV urged members this month to stop writing lest the campaign backfire.

Nevertheless the association is tracking developments carefully. The German cabinet is revising a draft law written last summer by the Ministry of the Interior, a draft heavily influenced by “green” policies.

The green or environmental party had written a data protection draft in the summer of 1997, while it was still in opposition, which the ruling Christian Democrats had rejected out of hand at the time.

But after the September 1998 election, the Greens entered a coalition government with the Social Democrats and their views heavily influenced the Interior Ministry’s data protection draft that, the DDV charges, went far beyond the EU’s data protection directive.

Member states were to have adapted the directive into national law by Oct. 24, 1998, but only a handful did so. Germany was a notable laggard, and the EU has threatened court action if Berlin doesn’t get moving fast.

Hans Juergen Schaefer, the DDV’s legal counsel, expects the government to publish a more acceptable draft to the DM industry this month. Schaefer credits growing media attention for the official shift.

“Our annual press conference during the DIMA show drew widespread attention,” he said. “We got big play in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and that elicited a broad echo.”

The FAZ is Germany’s New York Times, and is read with great care in the nation’s political circles. As a result “politicians began to call us to say they would support elimination of the offensive provision.”

Once the government draft is published it will to go to the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament, then to the government with a final Bundesrat vote no earlier than next March.

The law then goes to the decision-making lower house, the Bundestag, which is unlikely to complete consideration until June. Final enactment, Schaefer said, won’t come before next August.

“Things are moving in our direction, and we hope that the Greens and the data protection lobby won’t reverse the wheel. But even if things go against us we still have a lot of outstanding political chits to collect.”

In any event, Schaefer added, “I am a lot more optimistic in January than I was last November.”

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