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11 January 2017
| James Pearce
European telecoms operators have challenged the EU to ensure new e-privacy rules are customer friendly and promote innovation.
The European Commission has presented its “Proposal for a Regulation on e-Privacy”, which will extend the reach of current rules to include all electronic communication providers, including OTT firms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Google.
The new legislation looks to reinforce the rights of European citizens to communicate privately through messaging, email and voice services, by ensuring confidentiality of conversations and metadata.
Rules already exist for telecoms providers that prevent them from listening to, tapping, intercepting or storing communications without user consent, except for billing purposes, but the EC is proposing to extend these rules to include all digital communications.
Andrus Ansip, vice-president for the digital single market said: “Our proposals will deliver the trust in the Digital Single Market that people expect. I want to ensure confidentiality of electronic communications and privacy. Our draft ePrivacy Regulation strikes the right balance: it provides a high level of protection for consumers, while allowing businesses to innovate.”
In a joint response, the European Telecommunications Network Operators Association (ETNO) and GSMA Europe said operators recognise the EC’s goal in protecting the confidentiality of communications.
However, they warned European legislators need to adjust the proposals to make sure it promotes innovation and “customer-friendly” services.
“For this reason, ETNO and GSMA call for legislators to ensure that the final Regulation takes into account new services and that all providers are subject to the same rules. Unless we overcome the current inconsistencies and restrictions, telecom operators in Europe will be prevented from expanding consumer choice and offering new competitive services to citizens.
“We call on legislators to ensure that the new e-Privacy Regulation does not miss the opportunity to provide a consistent framework for the data economy, enabling companies to provide data-driven services.”
ETNO said the new regulation should be fully aligned with the existing General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), meaning operators should be allowed to perform big data analytics when it is in the interests of the customer of the wider public.
It also warned that any new regulations must not single out communication service providers by applying stricter rules than those in operating in other sectors, such as location service providers.
Lise Fuhr, director general of ETNO, said: “There is no European data economy without an innovation-oriented Regulation. Telcos should be able to innovate and provide more choice to European customers.”
The European Commission has now tasked the European Parliament and the Council to adopt the proposals by 25 May 2018, the same time the GDPR is applied.
Afke Schaart, vice-president Europe at GSMA, said: “Just like the Commission, we consider it is fundamental to create a privacy framework that enhances consumer trust in the context of electronic communications. However, we must ensure that the detailed requirements, such as the limited lawful grounds for processing, do not inadvertently frustrate use of metadata that is both innovative and sensitive to privacy concerns.”