Holocaust-related archives to be exempt from data protection act

Final draft of General Data Protection Regulation to include a provision explicitly stating that Holocaust related archives will be exempt from restriction.

December 16, 2015 18:54
2 minute read.
Polish born Mordechai Fox, an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor, wears a yellow Star of David

Polish born Mordechai Fox, an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor, wears a yellow Star of David on his jacket during a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Holocaust remembrance advocates in Brussels on Tuesday succeeded in amending draft legislation that critics have alleged would cut off researchers’ access to many European archives.

The final draft of the General Data Protection Regulation, agreed upon during a negotiating session between the European Commission and European Parliament, will include a provision explicitly stating that Holocaust related archives will be exempt from restrictions, officials from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

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The Berlin-based international organization had previously raised concerns over the bill, which seeks to give European citizens greater control over their data held by third parties, after researchers complained that archivists in several countries had used the pending law to prevent them from examining documents.

Because the legislation does not stipulate how long after a person’s death his or her private information can be revealed, or when access to such information can be granted, some archivists “have begun reading into what they understand the law will be,” and are “barring access to materials, including materials [related to] the history of the Holocaust,” Dr. Robert Williams, head of IHRA’s Committee on Archival Access and a researcher at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, told the Post last month.

In a recent statement, the 31-country association asserted that even before securing passage, the legislation has already begun impeding scholars’ access to archives across the continent, as archivists hedge their bets to keep from falling afoul of the soon-to-be-implemented rules.

Specifically, the IHRA demanded that the law contain a passage stipulating that “nothing in this Regulation affects the full and open access to documents bearing on the Holocaust.”

While the change was backed by representatives of all EU nations represented in the IHRA, not all of them offered support in the political arena in Brussels.

The amendment faced significant opposition by those claiming that it is unnecessary as the law does not impact such archival research.

Despite this, however, many opponents seem to have switched their positions, with IHRA executive secretary Dr. Kathrin Meyer telling the Post on Wednesday that “everyone opposed to it in beginning supported us.”

“We felt really strongly about this all the way along and now we know that for future generations of researchers, access to these files is secured independent of any kind of political development in Europe,” she said.

“I think we made a very strong case.”

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