• November 13, 2001

Euro Parliament Advances Data Privacy Legislation

The European Parliament today voted in favor of legislation designed to safeguard European Union citizens' privacy rights by cutting down on online "spam" and "cookies," but the legislation has a long way to go before it becomes law.

The legislation - which would have to be adopted by individual E.U. countries once it clears procedural hurdles - would require E.U.-based direct marketers to ask for consumer consent before sending unsolicited advertisements to mobile telephone and fax systems, and would allow e-mail users to opt out of receiving spam in their in-boxes.

The legislation also would bar companies doing business on the Internet from placing cookies on users' computers to track their movements online, without users' prior consent - a controversial proposal that has drawn large amounts of fire from the e-commerce community.

"So-called cookies, spyware, Web bugs, hidden identifiers and other similar devices that enter the user's terminal equipment without their explicit knowledge or explicit consent in order to gain access to information or to trace the activities of the user may seriously intrude the privacy of these users," the parliament document says.

The parliament's vote sends the legislation to the E.U.'s Council of Ministers, a group of representatives from the 15 member states who can remove and add more amendments to the controversial proposal, before sending it back to parliament for another reading.

The decision to create the opt-out structure for e-mailed spam was added as an amendment by parliament, and could be rejected by the council. If this happens, parliament would have to rustle up a 51 percent vote (314 out of 626 votes) to reinsert the provision.

The council then would receive the legislation once more, after parliament considers it the second time. If parliament and the council both agree on the text of the legislation at that time, it would become law, according to parliament spokeswoman Marjory van den Broeke.

Member states still would have to decide whether to adopt the proposal within their own governments, however.

Van den Broeke noted that some members of parliament expressed concern that as strong as the legislation would be in protecting consumer privacy when it comes to E.U.-based online businesses, it would do nothing to prevent U.S.-based companies from using unsolicited e-mail or cookies on E.U. citizens' e-mail accounts and computers.

--Reported By Robert MacMillan, Newsbytes.com, http://www.newsbytes.com .

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