IHRA and Data Protection

12.11.2015

While IHRA supports the EU decision to ensure the protection of personal data, it is crucial that the right to be forgotten does not conflict with the responsibility to remember.

A press kit outlining the issue is available here.

Since 2012 the IHRA has been concerned with the potential impact of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on Holocaust research. Despite the GDPR making exemptions for historical records and records of public interest (article 82) and stating that it does not apply to the deceased, the broad language utilised by the Regulation unintentionally threatens Holocaust research.

IHRA has already received reports stating that researchers have been denied access to archives on the basis of the GDPR, although it has not yet been adopted.

Over the last two years, IHRA has addressed the GDPR issue with numerous key stakeholders in the European Union, all of whom confirmed that restrictions on the accessibility of Holocaust-related archives would be an unintentional and highly undesirable effect of the GDPR.

The current IHRA Chair, Szabolcs Takács, also Hungarian State Secretary for European Affairs, has gone to great lengths and used every opportunity during his trips to Brussels to make IHRA’s case known.

Stakeholders in Brussels point out that such refusals from archives could always be challenged in court. But in practice this is not feasible for researchers, bar those who come from large research institutions with legal departments.

Péter Nikolicza, second secretary to the Hungarian Permanent Representation to the EU, who is spearheading IHRA’s lobbying efforts in Brussels, said:

“European bureaucrats and lawyers, who wield immense influence, do not understand the difficulties created by their legislation. If they were to request documents at an archive, they would know how to respond and would counter that the legislation is still in draft and does not preclude accessing Holocaust archives. The problem is if you are not a lawyer but a researcher and want to do the same and you get this refusal, you don’t know what to do.”

To safeguard access to archives in the future, to prevent a decline in Holocaust scholarship and to provide clear guidelines for agencies, IHRA proposes a specific reference to the Holocaust in the GDPR.

The IHRA Chair stated:

“Despite the IHRA consensus decision taken in June, I was disappointed that only eight IHRA member countries supported the IHRA proposal. While the majority of IHRA EU member countries kept silent, two member countries officially opposed the IHRA proposal. This was particularly surprising given the commitment of all IHRA member countries to the Stockholm Declaration.

The Stockholm Declaration not only states the unprecedented nature of the Holocaust but also commits countries to “take all necessary steps to facilitate the opening of archives in order to ensure that all documents bearing on the Holocaust are available to researchers.”

Negotiations with stakeholders in Brussels showed that there was little chance of securing the original amendment proposed by IHRA to the Regulation. However, there is still the possibility of having a specific reference to the Holocaust incorporated in the recitals of the Regulation. IHRA was pleased to hear yesterday that Jan Phillip Albrecht, Vice-Chair and Rapporteur of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee- the Committee responsible for the GDPR- believed that it was possible to include a reference in the Holocaust in the recitals.

Dr Kathrin Meyer, IHRA Executive Secretary said that many in Brussels have told her that if the Holocaust is included, it opens the door for everybody’s “pet projects.” Kathrin Meyer added that to reduce the Holocaust to a “pet project” was a fundamental misunderstanding of its dimensions and of its specific impact on the European community. The Holocaust is not simply one cause among many: the advent of the European Union can be directly traced to the atrocities committed in the Holocaust, which has implications for our understanding of and approach to contemporary issues.

Threatening or impeding Holocaust research in any way, plays into the hands of those who deny the Holocaust. Archives have a fundamental role to play in preserving historical truth and truth is key to combatting Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial is a form of antisemitism and when we protect access to Holocaust-related materials in archives, we actively contribute to combating antisemitism. This is not a historical issue but one which directly affects the safety and security of present day societies.

Considering the supreme importance the Holocaust played in the foundation of the European community following World War II and in light of rising antisemitism across Europe, which is most often connected to distortion and denial of the Holocaust, the consequences of a decrease in Holocaust research would be disastrous.

As a next step, IHRA delegates will be encouraged to identify and address MEPs from their country who sit on the LIBE Committee. IHRA has developed a template letter outlining IHRA's concerns and calling on their MEPs support to ensure a specific reference to the Holocaust is included in the General Data Protection Regulation.