European Commission proposes privacy rule updates

The European Commission is proposing new legislation to ensure stronger privacy in electronic communications, while opening up new business opportunities.

The measures aim to update current rules, extending their scope to all electronic communication providers. They also aim to create new possibilities to process communication data and reinforce trust and security in the Digital Single Market – a key objective of the Digital Single Market strategy.

At the same time, the proposal aligns the rules for electronic communications with the new standards of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

The Commission is also proposing new rules to ensure that when personal data are handled by EU institutions and bodies privacy is protected in the same way as it is in Member States under the General Data Protection Regulation, as well as setting out a strategic approach to the issues concerning international transfers of personal data.

The proposed regulation changes include:

  • New players:92% of Europeans say it is important that their emails and online messages remain confidential. However, the current ePrivacy Directive only applies to traditional telecoms operators. Privacy rules will now also cover new providers of electronic communications services, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Gmail, iMessage, or Viber.
  • Stronger rules:By updating the current Directive with a directly applicable Regulation, all people and businesses in the EU will enjoy the same level of protection for their electronic communications. Businesses will also benefit from one single set of rules across the EU.
  • Communications content and metadata:Privacy will be guaranteed for both content and metadata derived from electronic communications (e.g. time of a call and location). Both have a high privacy component and, under the proposed rules, will need to be anonymised or deleted if users have not given their consent, unless the data is required for instance for billing purposes.
  • New business opportunities:Once consent is given for communications data, both content and/or metadata, to be processed, traditional telecoms operators will have more opportunities to use data and provide additional services. For example, they could produce heat maps indicating the presence of individuals to help public authorities and transport companies when developing new infrastructure projects.
  • Simpler rules on cookies:The so called “cookie provision”, which has resulted in an overload of consent requests for internet users, will be streamlined. New rules will allow users to be more in control of their settings, providing an easy way to accept or refuse the tracking of cookies and other identifiers in case of privacy risks. The proposal clarifies that no consent is needed for non-privacy intrusive cookies improving internet experience (e.g. to remember shopping cart history). Cookies set by a visited website counting the number of visitors to that website will no longer require consent.
  • Protection against spam:Today’s proposal bans unsolicited electronic communication by any means, e.g. by emails, SMS and in principle also by phone calls if users have not given their consent. Member States may opt for a solution that gives consumers the right to object to the reception of voice-to-voice marketing calls, for example by registering their number on a do-not-call list. Marketing callers will need to display their phone number or use a special pre-fix that indicates a marketing call.
  • More effective enforcement:The enforcement of the confidentiality rules in the Regulation will be the responsibility of national data protection authorities.

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