Chris Grayling is right. Not, of course, over his plan to remove choice of representative from legal aid clients, which flies in the face of his government’s whole strategy for public services, let alone our sense of justice. Where the secretary of state is on the button is his offensive this week against the European Commission’s proposed general data protection regulation for business.

The new regulation is expected to come into force in 2015, replacing the 1995 Data Protection Directive, which the 1998 Data Protection Act implements in English law. The aim of the general regulation is to standardise data protection regimes across Europe, removing barriers to business and improving protection for citizens. However Grayling has said it is evidence of EU officials ‘not living in the real world’ and being ‘completely oblivious to the potential consequences of what they are doing’. This is rather milder language than that of Rohan Silva, the prime minister’s senior policy adviser, who recently described the regulation as ‘completely demented’.

Surely a bit over the top? Surely when our data is being picked over without our consent by everyone from dodgy PPI claims managers to the US National Security Agency we should be welcoming any new international protection?

Alas, no. The new regulation will have zero effect on security services and not much more on claims management cowboys. What it will do is impose new burdens on Europe’s faltering knowledge economy, including in a sector, the emerging reuse of so-called ‘big data’, where the UK has a comparative advantage.

The biggest problem is with the regulation’s superficially most attractive innovation, the so-called ‘right to be forgotten’ by corporate IT systems. Apart from the administrative burden, it would have a chilling effect on start-up businesses whose model depends on the reuse of anonymised data created by individuals’ quotidian interactions with social networks, business and government.

While there’s no doubt been too much hype around the economic potential of ‘big data’ it seems foolhardy for Europe to impose on the sector an equivalent of the 1865 Locomotive Act. You remember: the one with the red flag.

Michael Cross is Gazette news editor

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