Europe to review data retention rules

Readers will recall from the curious case of Mr Spitz that European telecoms operators already retain very large amounts of information about their customers. In an evaluation report adopted today by the European Commission, the Commission proposes to review the existing rules.

The Commission summarise the main findings of the report as:

  • Most Member States take the view that EU rules on data retention remain necessary for law enforcement, the protection of victims and the criminal justice systems. As criminal investigation tools, the use of data related to telephone numbers, IP address or mobile phone identifiers have resulted in convictions of offenders and acquittals of innocent persons.
  • Member States differ in how they apply data retention. For example, retention periods vary between 6 months and 2 years, the purposes for which data may be accessed and used, and the legal procedures for accessing the data, vary considerably.
  •  Given that the Directive only seeks to partially harmonise national rules, it is not surprising that common approach has not emerged in this area. The overall low level of harmonisation can however create difficulties for telecommunication service providers and in particular smaller operators. Operators are reimbursed differently across the EU for the cost of retaining and giving access to data. The Commission will consider ways of providing more consistent reimbursement of the costs.
  • Data retention represents a significant limitation on the right to privacy. Whilst there are no concrete examples of serious breaches of privacy, the risk of data security breaches will remain unless further safeguards are put in place. The Commission will therefore consider more stringent regulation of storage, access to and use of the retained data.

The Commission will now commence a consultation with stakeholders prior to publishing its proposed amendments to the existing Data Protection Directive.

This area is very sensitive politically, as it draws one of the lines between the interest of the state and the interests of citizens. As such some countries have delayed implementation of existing rules and in others their legality has been subject to challenge. It remains to be seen how the Commission will seek to meaningfully engage on those issues which are not really addressed to a substantive extent in the report.

European Commission refers Spain to European Court over ‘telecoms tax’ and tells them to speed up spectrum refarming implementation

Hola! As yesterday’s readers will know, I am currently in Madrid working from Olswang’s new Spanish office, soI thought it appropriate to give today’s post something of a Spanish slant as Spain has been attracting Neelie Kroes‘ (Europe’s Digital Agenda Commissioner) ire this week.

On 14 March she referred Spain (and France) to the European Court of Justice on the basis that their imposition of turnover related levies which were then directed towards funding  broadcasters. The Commission press release notes that: ‘A law on financing the Spanish public broadcaster RTVE entered into force in September 2009 and imposed a charge of 0.9% on the gross revenues of telecoms operators to make up for the loss of revenue from paid advertising this broadcaster. In October 2010, telecoms operators made the first payments to CMT, the national telecoms regulator. The charge was expected to generate revenue of around €230 million in 2010.’  and goes on to explain that the basis of the reference: the levy is incompatible with EU telecoms rules and in particular Article 12 of the telecoms Authorisation Directive (2002/20/CE), which provides that charges can be levied on telecoms operators only to cover certain administrative and regulatory costs (mainly authorisations and regulatory functions) and should be objective, transparent and proportionate.

On the same day, she requested Spain (and this time Hungary as well) get on with ensuring that the necessary national implementation rules are in place to permit refarming of existing 900 MHz GSM spectrum by the 9 May deadline. Whilst the request has no legal force, the Commission is clearly concerned at the apparent lack of progress and failure to respond may well lead to further infringement action against Spain.

Tighter regulation of mobile data roaming casts shadow over Barcelona from Brussels

With MWC 2011 still in full swing there are no shortage of topical issues to blog about, but whilst the mobile industry celebrates its achievements in Barcelona, back in Brussels the European Commission continues to go about its business. On Monday, the Commission published its latest consumer research on perceptions of roaming costs which showed continued consumer concern over the costs of both voice and data roaming.

The existing Roaming Regulation has dramatically reduced roaming voice revenues for operators for intra-EU roaming, with some reduction in roaming data revenues. The existing rules expire on 30 June 2012, so this research feeds into the Commission’s review of its replacement which started in December 2010. In that review, Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda said: “Huge differences between domestic and roaming charges have no place in a true EU Single Market. We need to address the source of current problems, namely a lack of competition, and to find a durable solution. But we are keeping an open mind on exactly what solution would work.” 

Speaking at MWC on Monday (launching the research) she further said: “I would love to be able to say to you today that the roaming market is competitive, that data roaming charges approach domestic prices, that bill shocks are a thing of the past, that prices for voice and SMS roaming are not clustered around the maximum levels permitted.  Regrettably, I cannot.”

The Commission’s Digital Agenda’s target is to have a single market for telecoms services in which the difference between national and roaming charges should approach zero by 2015. Whilst this week has seen some of the operators announce cheaper data roaming plans in an attempt to head off further regulation, the Commission seems to be preparing the ground carefully for further aggressive regulation of roaming.