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EU ministers debate ISP data retention rules

IDG News peeks at possible spam ban document

Ministers heading up communications departments in EU countries are on course for a confrontation with the European Parliament over a new data protection law under construction.

Experts working for the 15 ministers have proposed that the directive on data protection for telecommunications should give more scope for law enforcement authorities to access phone and internet traffic data.

They also want to limit commercial spammers by banning unsolicited email, according to an internal document made available to IDG News Service that is to be presented tomorrow to ambassadors of the 15 member states by the Council of Ministers Working Party on Telecommunication.

Last week the European Parliament voted to make it more difficult for authorities to gain access to people's traffic data. They also agreed to remove email from the list of communication technologies that should be free of unsolicited direct marketing messages, leaving the decision of whether to ban spam to member state governments.

The new position on data retention by ministers of the national governments is more hardline than the one telecom ministers agreed on at a Council of Ministers meeting in Luxembourg in June, but certain member states, including the UK, are known to have wanted more access to traffic data for some time.

The recent terrorist attacks in the USA have toughened their resolve, said a EU diplomat, who requested anonymity. "We think this new version of the directive sends a powerful signal and it responds to the events of 11 September," he said.

The 15 ambassadors are expected to rubber-stamp the new Council of Ministers version of the directive at their meeting tomorrow to prepare the agenda for next week's meeting of telecomms ministers. However, the ministers may make changes, the diplomat said.

Opinion appears most divided on the spam question, with 11 countries in favor of a ban on unsolicited email, and four — the UK, Ireland, Luxembourg and France — preferring a less stringent 'opt-out' approach.

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