EU net neutrality proposal threatens privacy, says data protection supervisor

The proposed law leaves the door open for traffic management, Peter Hustinx says

The proposed European Union-wide net neutrality law would not protect citizens' rights to privacy, the European data protection supervisor said Friday.

The proposal from the European Commission in September leaves the door open for certain types of Internet traffic management to scan and discriminate between various

types of content, Peter Hustinx, the European data protection supervisor (EDPS), said in a published opinion.

The Commission's proposal aims to allow providers to offer electronic-communication services across the E.U. based on a single authorization rather than the current 28 different national provisions. It is also supposed to further harmonize the conditions of radio spectrum assignment for Wi-Fi services and safeguard net neutrality.

However, net neutrality as defined by the EDPS has as its basis "the impartiality of Internet service providers towards the different types of information accessed and transmitted by end-users, and thus the absence of discrimination in the quality of Internet access services based on the content, source or destination of such information."

Article 23 of the proposal allows Internet traffic management measures for "implementing a legislative provision" and "preventing and impeding serious crimes." Traffic management allows service providers to block or filter the flow of information, so Hustinx is concerned that would significantly limit net neutrality and interfere with end-users' rights to privacy and the protection of personal data.

In particular, Hustinx warned that techniques such as deep packet inspection presuppose "a detailed analysis of the content of information transmitted over the Internet, which may thus reveal substantial and detailed information about users." He has called for an alteration of the proposal's text to provide clear information on which inspection techniques are allowed and that national data protection authorities have a greater role to ensure privacy and data protection rights of users.

The grounds of implementing a legislative provision should be scrapped from the proposal, while preventing serious crime is already covered for the purposes of implementing a court order, he wrote.

"Any monitoring and restriction of the internet activity of users should be done solely to achieve a targeted, specific and legitimate aim," Hustinx said.

However, Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes has said that the proposed law provides guarantees for a more open Internet in the E.U. since the text explicitly bans traffic throttling.

Currently, 26 of the E.U.'s 28 member states lack net neutrality rules.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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