European civil liberties groups are calling on MEPs to reject a Telecoms Package amendment that, if passed in its present form, could permit network operators to collect and mine users Internet and email data.
European Digital Rights (EDRi), France's La Quadrature du Net, and Germany's AK Vorrat have jointly issued a warning about Amendment 181 in the e-Privacy directive of the e-Privacy directive. They say it is so badly worded that it potentially allows operators to collect an unlimited amount of personal data related to our communications usage, including email traffic records and web surfing data. Vast 'pools' of data could be stored for an unlimited amount of time, which goes much further than the existing EU law in the Data Retention directive.
The problems lie in both the European Parliament and the Council versions of the amendment. The European Parliament version provides some protection for end-users but also could be interpreted as allowing the data to be passed to a third party.
The Council version removes all data protection requirements whilst limiting the scope to security purposes.
They are joined by the European
Data Protection Supervisor, Peter Hustinx, who warns against the risk of abuse. The EDPS has advised that Amendment 181 should either be rejected or the data protection safeguards for users should be reinstated.
However, caution should be the watchword on this issue. Should it be dropped or re-worded? The problem with the Telecoms Package concerns how the different amendments link together. This amendment doesn't function in isolation and the consquences for user's privacy can alter with any new revisions to the amdendment, or to other amendments. For example, the Parliament passed amendments to Article 4 1a and 1b (Amendment 122). Amendment 122 combined with Amendment 181 provided a loop-hole for filtering peer-to-peer traffic. The Council dropped Amendment 122, however, we do not yet know the final fate of it in the trialogue discussions.
And it seems to me that this could be the first trigger of an e-privacy timebomb, sitting quietly, inside the Telecoms Package. Amendment 181 is not the only amendment in the Telecoms Package with implications for compromising users privacy. There have been several interest groups lobbying for the weakening of privacy law in one way or another. There are several different industry agendas. The copyright lobby, the telco lobby, the IT security lobby. Each one wants something slightly different. All believe their business will benefit from weaker privacy rules, increased access to personal data, and as little as possible regulatory oversight of their activities. The practices they intend will include traffic processing, traffic filtering, graduated response, network security and "traffic management".
It raises the issue of privacy for users on telecommunications network and the Internet, with a host of questions which should be aired and debated before the legislation is passed. An important issue is how much regulatory oversight is needed, and at what level should intervention occur. This should be a wake-up call for anyone who is concerned about e-privacy!
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