Death by footnote for privacy law

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When Brussels first proposed new EU-wide laws on data protection - establishing rights for citizens whose personal details are held on computer - Britain firmly opposed the move.

The Commission, however, persisted with its legislation, drawing up rules on what personal data could be stored by whom, and how it could be passed between organisations, in different member states.

Britain was unable to veto the measure because it fell within articles of the EU treaty which allow member states to vote by majority. Instead, it negotiated a series of special arrangements, which were listed in the unpublished minutes of the Council of Ministers.

For instance, Britain won an agreement protecting the rights of banks to hold information which might combat money laundering. Another minute protected the right of election canvassers to store information on voters.

The published EU directive states that national laws should be made to comply within three years. An unpublished minute gave a blanket opt-out, stating that steps only have be taken "that do not prove impossible or involve disproportionate effort in terms of costs".

Article 8 of the EU directive banned organisations from storing personal information "revealing racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, and the process of data concerning health and sex life''. But Germany wanted the right to store information about religious beliefs. Britain wanted permission to store information about trade union involvement. The result was another informal agreement. There were 31 in this directive alone.