By Joe McNamee

Since 2002, European citizens’ freedom of communication, the security of our communications devices, and the protection of our personal data in the online world have been safeguarded by the so-called e-Privacy Directive. This Directive is now up for renewal. Unsurprisingly, after the big online companies launched probably the biggest ever lobbying campaign to undermine the EU’s general privacy legislation, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), they’re now attacking this legislation – this time joined by telecoms providers.

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The online companies want to protect their ability to track people as they use the internet. They want to protect their ability to use data from apps to discover where people are going in the offline world and to be able to use this data to create profiles. Already, with data from just three hundred clicks on Facebook “like” buttons, researchers have shown that they can develop a better insight into your personality than anybody you know – better than your spouse, your siblings or your family. Telecoms providers look at all of this information and the huge profits the online companies are making out of it. They look at the protection that the e-Privacy Directive gives to their customers and cry that this is unfair. They want to make money out of it too – they have information about our location, about our movements, about our friends, about the businesses we communicate with. Why can’t they spy on us too? It is for our own good, after all.

As a result, an impressive-sounding twelve trade associations signed a letter demanding that the protection to our freedom of expression and communication should be repealed. Apparently for comedy value, the letter calling for removal of the only EU legal instrument protecting the confidentiality of communications was entitled “Empowering trust and innovation by repealing the e-Privacy Directive”.

The list of signatories to the letter seems impressive until we realise that it is just a small number of companies mobilising them. This is very much in line with the lobbying on the General Data Protection Regulation: The key industry players used various methods to make sure their arguments were repeated by lots of different voices, to create the impression of a broad opposition against the legislation. In the case of this letter, for example Google is a member exactly half of the signatory associations – the App Developers Alliance, Interactive Advertising Bureau, Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), Digital Europe, the European Digital Media Association (EDiMA) and the European Internet Service Providers Association (EuroISPA).

Shockingly, the European Coordination Committee of the Radiological, Electromedical and Healthcare IT Industry (COCIR) also signed up for the call for the repeal of the privacy rules. What interest do they have in removing rules on placing software on users’ devices? What aspect of protection of protection of confidentiality of communications worries them? We don’t know. We do know that its members include Deutsche Telekom’s subsidiary T-Systems. Deutsche Telekom is also a member of signatory associations European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) and the GSM Association (GSMA).

Between now and November 2016, the European Commission will decide how it will update the e-Privacy Directive.

Joint Industry Statement: Empowering trust and innovation by repealing the e-Privacy Directive (05.07.2016)
https://www.etno.eu/news/etno/2016/878

EDRi: Data Protection Reform – Next stop: e-Privacy Directive (24.02.2016)
https://edri.org/data-protection-reform-next-stop-e-privacy-directive/

(Contribution by Joe McNamee, EDRi)

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