Changes to EU’s Telecom Rules Are Coming Soon

The European Union is plans to extend some of its telecom rules concerning security and anonymity to online communications providers such as Skype, and WhatsApp, which would govern how they can use encryption. Under the current rule, it only apples to phone service providers.

Telecom companies have been complaining for years that other companies like Google and Microsoft are being lightly regulated in spite of them offering similar services over the web. The already highly regulated companies like Vodaphone, are calling for stricter rules for companies offering communication capabilities over the internet.

They also expressed that these companies have the added capabilities to earn profit from customer data.

“Unlike Telco’s, OTT, (web based), are global players that are allowed to commercially exploit the traffic data and the location data they collect,” a representative of the telecom group Orange said.

Under the current ePrivacy Directive, telecoms have to protect user’s communication and make sure that the security of the networks used do not keep customers location and traffic data. A lot of tech companies like Facebook already offer end to end encryption on the services they provide.

The argument is that there isn’t a need to extend the telecom rules to web based providers and the EU shouldn’t be allowed to delegate how they protect customer’s communications.

Facebook, which uses full encryption on WhatsApp, responded by saying that extending the rules to online messaging services like WhatsApp, would mean they could no longer guarantee the security of the communications that go on because governments would be able to restrict the anonymity for national security reasons.

“Therefore, any expansion of the current ePrivacy Directive should have the undesired consequence of undermining the very privacy it is seeking to protect,” Facebook said in a statement.

Tech companies have been battling national governments and law enforcement agencies over the use of encryption for many years. Supporters of encryption argue that the technology is a vital piece of the online privacy rights puzzle.  One such supporter, EU Commission Vice President Andrus Ansip, who has spoken up in the past in favor of encryption.

The document stated that the exact confidentiality rights for web based communication providers should still have the need to be defined.  The commission also could force companies to let users take copies of their content, like emails, with them when they change providers.

A reform of the ePrivacy rules will be proposed later this year, and the change to the EU’s telecom rules will come about in September.  The commission stated that it was considering the degree of the current rules needed to be adapted, “to ensure adequate levels of consumer protection and ensure that regulation does not distort competition.”

Spokeswoman for the commission, Nathalie Vandystadt said, “This does not necessarily mean treating all communication services the same for all purposes.”

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