On 10 February 2021, EU member states agreed on a negotiating mandate for new rules on the protection of privacy and confidentiality in the use of electronic communications services. These updated ePrivacy rules will define cases in which service providers are allowed to process electronic communications data or have access to data stored on end-users’ devices. This agreement allows the Portuguese presidency to start talks with the European Parliament on the final text.
Pedro Nuno Santos, Portuguese Minister for Infrastructure and Housing, President of the Council, says:
“Robust privacy rules are vital for creating and maintaining trust in a digital world. The path to the Council position has not been easy, but we now have a mandate that strikes a good balance between solid protection of the private life of individuals and fostering the development of new technologies and innovation. The Portuguese presidency is very pleased to launch talks now with the European Parliament on this key proposal.”
An update to the existing ePrivacy directive of 2002 is needed to cater for new technological and market developments, such as the current widespread use of Voice over IP, web-based email and messaging services, and the emergence of new techniques for tracking users’ online behaviour.
The draft ePrivacy regulation will replace the existing ePrivacy directive.
A summary of the Council mandate is set out below. You can read more about the background to this in our View from Brussels column and about the EU’s shift towards a digital Europe.
Under the Council mandate, the regulation will cover electronic communications content transmitted using publicly available services and networks, and metadata related to the communication. Metadata includes, for example, information on location and the time and recipient of communication. It is considered potentially as sensitive as the content.
To ensure full protection of privacy rights and to promote a trusted and secure Internet of Things, the rules will also cover machine-to-machine data transmitted via a public network.
The rules will apply when end-users are in the EU. This also covers cases where the processing takes place outside the EU or the service provider is established or located outside the EU.
As a main rule, electronic communications data will be confidential. Any interference, including listening to, monitoring and processing of data by anyone other than the end-user will be prohibited, except when permitted by the ePrivacy regulation.
Permitted processing of electronic communications data without the consent of the user includes, for example, ensuring the integrity of communications services, checking for the presence of malware or viruses, or cases where the service provider is bound by EU or member states’ law for the prosecution of criminal offences or prevention of threats to public security.
Metadata may be processed for instance for billing, or for detecting or stopping fraudulent use. With the user’s consent, service providers could, for example, use metadata to display traffic movements to help public authorities and transport operators to develop new infrastructure where it is most needed. Metadata may also be processed to protect users’ vital interests, including for monitoring epidemics and their spread or in humanitarian emergencies, in particular natural and man-made disasters.
In certain cases, providers of electronic communications networks and services may process metadata for a purpose other than that for which it was collected, even when this is not based on the user’s consent or certain provisions on legislative measures under EU or member state law. This processing for another purpose must be compatible with the initial purpose, and strong specific safeguards apply to it.
As the user’s terminal equipment, including both hardware and software, may store highly personal information, such as photos and contact lists, the use of processing and storage capabilities and the collection of information from the device will only be allowed with the user’s consent or for other specific transparent purposes laid down in the regulation.
To avoid cookie consent fatigue, an end-user will be able to give consent to the use of certain types of cookies by whitelisting one or several providers in their browser settings. Software providers will be encouraged to make it easy for users to set up and amend whitelists on their browsers and withdraw consent at any moment.
The text also includes rules on line identification, public directories, and unsolicited and direct marketing.
The Council and the European Parliament will need to negotiate the terms of the final text, and the regulation would enter into force 20 days after its publication in the EU Official Journal, and would apply two years later.
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