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MEPs narrowly back e-Privacy reforms

MEPs have given their backing for final negotiations to begin on the wording of new EU laws on privacy and electronic communications.

The European Parliament voted 318 to 280 in favour of commencing talks with representatives of EU member state governments in the Council of Ministers after endorsing proposals for a new Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulation (e-Privacy) earlier approved by a committee at the parliament. There were 20 abstentions.

In January, the European Commission proposed a new e-Privacy Regulation to replace the existing e-Privacy Directive. The plans, if implemented, would update current rules on the confidentiality of electronic communications, bring internet-based communication service providers within scope of the EU's e-Privacy laws for the first time, as well as set new rules on the use of 'cookies' and other "device fingerprinting" technologies, and direct marketing via electronic communications.

A statement from the European Parliament said: "Parliament’s mandate sets high standards of privacy, confidentiality and security in electronic communications across the EU."

"A ban on 'cookie walls', which block access to a website if the person does not agree to his or her data being used by the site, is among Parliament’s priorities. Snooping on personal devices via cookies or software updates, or tracking people without their clear approval through public hotspots or Wi-Fi in shopping centres, should also be prohibited," it said.

"[MEPs] also stress that data should only be used for the purpose of which consent has been given by the individual. So-called 'meta-data', which can give information about numbers called, websites visited, geographical location or the time and date a call was made and other sensitive data, should be treated as confidential and never passed on to third parties. Finally, 'privacy by default' settings should become standard for all software used for electronic communications," the statement said.

The Council of Ministers has still to agree on its negotiating position over the reforms.

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