28 January, 2015

Blog Post - Reforming ePrivacy, improving consumer rights

#EDPD2015: Reforming ePrivacy, improving consumer rights

In today’s fast-moving world of technology, we are often confronted with examples of legislation for our sector which are no longer fit for purpose, having been conceived in a different era. While the objectives and aims were sound at one point, today’s new reality of converged media and communication services and increasingly innovative offers from a myriad of new players means that many rules, and sometimes entire regulatory frameworks, need to be re-considered. In view of this, ETNO particularly welcomes the emphasis given by the new European Commission to “better regulation”, and to its re-fit exercise for current legislative measures.

ETNO has for many years been stressing the need for a review of the 2002 ePrivacy Directive, last reviewed in 2009. The first ePrivacy Directive was introduced in 1997: at that time telecoms operators were collecting data that was deemed to be unique to that sector (e.g. traffic and location data) and as such, still today, this Directive only applies to providers of electronic communications networks and services and not to Information Society service providers. However, the situation has since changed and the so-called Over-the-Top players (Information Society service providers) are now collecting vast amounts of personal data for their online services, such as VoIP and messaging, but yet they fall outside the scope of the ePrivacy Directive. Further, in practical terms, telecoms operators face a dual compliance regime (the ePrivacy Directive and also the Data Protection Directive).

ETNO’s main concern is that the existence of different and unequal rules for equivalent services does not lead to a single market in privacy or data and distorts the value in data and innovation in data driven services. This greatly impacts the ability of EU telco operators to compete on an equal footing and it creates legal uncertainty and overall confusion for consumers.

ETNO has called for legislators to repeal the ePrivacy Directive through the new Data Protection Regulation, which is currently under discussion at Council and will apply to all players offering services to EU citizens. This would ensure that consumers can benefit from transparent and consistent rights and user experiences for functionally equivalent services. Some still-needed provisions within the ePrivacy Directive could be brought in under the Regulation and it would seem to be efficient to deal with this anomaly while the Regulation is still open, rather than dealing with one review after the other (and so leaving considerable lag time for operators who will continue to face this dual compliance regime).

The ongoing review of the EU Data Protection legal framework is a unique opportunity to achieve a true level playing field in order to ensure that technologically neutral principles apply to all stakeholders. This is also a key consideration for the debate around the EU Digital Single Market and the need for increased competitiveness. In today’s converged world, the distortions between sectors are not justifiable and this particular example of asymmetry needs to be addressed without delay.

by Caroline Greer, Head of Public Policy, ETNO and Cristina Vela Marimon, Chair of the ETNO Data Protection, Trust & Security Working Group

To learn more about our views on how privacy and security policies and a level playing field can contribute to a more prosperous Europe, check ETNO’s Agenda for Europe.

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