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EU to restrict use of spam and cookies

July 21, 2000
Web posted at: 10:54 a.m. EDT (1454 GMT)

BRUSSELS (IDG) -- The European Commission is considering regulating the use of spam and cookies on the Internet.

Spam, or unsolicited commercial e-mail, and cookies, files stored on an Internet user's computer which enable their visits to web sites to be tracked, are two of the less digestible aspects of life on the Internet today.

The commission's move is part of a proposal for a new regulatory framework for telecommunications, which will pave the way to tighter data privacy protection for all electronic communications, commission officials explained Thursday during a technical briefing.


Together the measures signal a significant strengthening of data privacy rules in the European Union.

If approved by the European Union's Council of Ministers, the rules will introduce the principle of opt-in for spam meaning that it is legal to send consumers spam only if they have specifically agreed to receive it, for example by clicking on button on a website, commission officials said.

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Existing EU rules have led to a confused situation where four member states have opt-in obligations, and five have enacted opt-out rules, where consumers receive spam until they specifically request to be excluded from such mailing lists. Six member states have no rules at all on this issue, the officials said.

Officials warned that if the industry did not take action within a year on the abuse of cookies to collect personal data without the knowledge of the data subject, then the commission will be forced to take action.

"Most software and hardware already violate existing EU data privacy rules in this respect," said a commission official. As a matter of policy, commission officials refuse to be quoted by name.

In February 1999 a working group on data privacy composed of commission and national representatives had urged industry to restrict the collection of cookies, but so far industry has failed to respond, said the official.

If no action has been taken within a year, the commission will propose amendments to restrict the collection of cookies, he said.

These changes are part of the European Commission's proposals to replace the existing regulatory framework for telecommunications, which is composed of 23 directives, with a streamlined version comprising just eight pieces of legislation.

The proposals put forward last week would also require operators of mobile phone networks to block the use of services which pinpoint the location of mobile phones unless a customer has specifically agreed to allow this information to be collected.

Emergency services across the European Union have requested an exemption to this ban, and the commission and member states have agreed to seek a solution, the official said.

EU rejects U.S. data privacy protection as inadequate
July 7, 2000
First Amendment is obstacle to spam legislation
June 9, 2000
U.S. prepares to battle EU over wireless spectrum
May 8, 2000
EU vote on privacy agreement due this week
March 28, 2000
U.S., EU to meet on data privacy
January 18, 2000

Proposed EU telecom framework unveiled
U.S.-EU data privacy deal panned
(The Industry Standard)
EU to promote safe use of Internet
House passes spam bill
First Amendment is obstacle to spam legislation
(The Industry Standard)
Europe cracks down on spam
Microsoft browser update offers cookie control
U.S. Congress gets its teeth into cookies

The European Commission
European Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (EuroCAUCE)

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