The proposed EU legislation on “Trade Secrets Protection”, which the European Parliament will vote next April 14, creates excessive rights to secrecy for businesses: it is a direct threat to the work of journalists and their sources, whistleblowers, employees’ freedom of expression, and rights to access public interest information (on medicines, pesticides, car emissions, etc.).
What is the problem? Trade secrets are everything companies keep secret to stay ahead of competitors. A secret recipe or manufacturing process, plans of a new product, a list of clients, prototypes… The theft of trade secrets can be a real problem for companies, and is already punished in all EU Member States. But there was no uniform legislation on the matter at the EU level.
A small group of lobbyists working for large multinational companies (Dupont, General Electric, Intel, Nestlé, Michelin, Safran, Alstom…) convinced the European Commission to draft such a legislation, and helped it all along the way. The problem is that they were too successful in their lobbying: they transformed a legislation which should have regulated fair competition between companies into something resembling a blanket right to corporate secrecy, which now threatens anyone in society who sometimes needs access to companies’ internal information without their consent: consumers, employees, journalists, scientists…
Since we discovered this text, many months after the European Commission published its legislative proposal, we have been working in the very uncomfortable position of trying to anticipate all possible detrimental consequences, with very limited means, to try to convince EU decision-makers to introduce exceptions to limit the damage. We obviously forgot things.