Euro Parliament approves data protection law

The European Parliament approved a new data-protection directive for the telecommunication sector Thursday.

Parliament largely approved the compromise on the directive on data protection that was worked out between the European People's Party and European Democrats (EPP/ED) and the European Socialist Party (PES) this week, the European Parliament said in a statement.

A controversial clause in the law will allow member states to force Internet service providers (ISPs) and telecommunication operators to retain data on their customers beyond the one- or two-month period this information is usually stored for billing purposes. Industry representatives and civil rights advocates had criticized this measure.

The compromise was fiercely opposed by some Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), including the chairman of the debate on the directive at committee level, Italian MEP Marco Cappato. The European Parliament said that Cappato rejected any responsibility for the outcome of the vote, saying it entailed massive restrictions on civil liberties, and ran counter to the position of the freedoms and rights committee that he chairs.

The vote on data retention was "unfortunate", said Joe McNamee, European affairs manager for the association of European ISPs, EuroISPA, who was following the vote.

"This starts the discussion on what is required," he said Thursday.

The European Parliament signed up for a soft opt-in for spam. This will outlaw unsolicited and untargeted mass e-mail, but will continue to allow electronic commerce operations to communicate by e-mail with their existing customers.

Web sites will be allowed to continue to use cookies as do they now, but the new law requires the Web sites that place the cookies to provide full information about them on request.

The European Parliament has asked for a review of the directive within three years of its application.

Now that the European Parliament and the governments of the member states have agreed the shape of the new data protection directive, it remains for member states to transpose the law into their national statute books. This often takes up to two years.

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