EU Member States Block Progress Of Controversial ePrivacy Rules

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The European Commission. Image credit: European Commission

Member states fail to agree on scope of regulations that aim to apply more rigorous privacy standards to the likes of Skype and WhatsApp

The European Union’s proposed ePrivacy regulations, which aim to put online applications such as Skype and WhatsApp onto a level playing field with established telecoms services, have stalled after member states failed to reach an agreement about the rules’ overall scope.

The draft ePrivacy directive was proposed in January 2017, nearly three years ago, with the goal of holding online communications and email services to the same rigorous standards as are faced by telecoms providers.

Member states must reach a common position on the regulations before entering into talks with the European Commission and European Parliament.

But they have failed to agree on issues such as rules covering tracking cookies, detection and deletion of illegal material and consent requirements.

User consent

The draft proposals require, for instance, that firms must gain users’ consent before tracking their online activities and must ensure that all electronic communications remain confidential without the user’s consent.

Ambassadors at a meeting of the Permanent Representatives Committee of the EU Council in Brussels on Friday again failed to break the impasse, Reuters reported.

Tech companies and some member states hold that the proposals would place too many constraints on online services, while privacy advocates back the plans.

Diego Naranjo, Head of Policy at European Digital Rights (EDRi), said the failure to move forward with the ePrivacy rules was “a step backwards for the EU”.

Rules ‘watered down’

“By first watering down the text and now halting the ePrivacy Regulation, the Council takes a stance to protect the interests of online tracking advertisers and to ensure the dominance of big tech,” he said.

He called upon the European Commission to ask the Council to come up with a “strong revised text” as early as possible next year.

The current Finnish presidency of the EU is now to submit a progress report on the regulations to EU telecoms ministers on 3 December.

After that the next steps are unclear, with the possibility that Croatia, which takes over the rotating EU presidency on 1 January, may seek to resume negotiations.

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