Consumer and data protection – or less privacy?

23 September 2008

Consumer and data protection – or less privacy?

This week the European Parliament will vote on an extensive, complicated 'Telecom Package': more than 200 pages of text and 194 proposed amendments on the improvement of the security and integrity of electronic networks. As consumers we must be better protected against spam and other annoyances and our personal data must be protected as well. Everyone agrees about these things.

Major improvement

The British Conservative Malcolm Harbour is Rapporteur, which is to say the MEP with responsibility for preparing the European Parliament's report on the issues in question. His report covers fixed and mobile telephony, broadcasting and the Internet. We limit out comments here to the Internet.

The report's recommendations would mean a major improvement for the consumer, in the view of SP Euro-MP Kartika Liotard. But there are also a number of proposed amendments which, the SP believes, would have just the opposite effect. Representatives of the entertainment industry have lobbied intensively for the inclusion of authors' rights, including copyright.

Who is the judge?

For example, proposed amendments would guard against Internet users violating the rights of authors. But it would not be a judge, but the Internet Providers (IPs) who would be obliged to take measures to prevent this. An IP could, for example, cut your Internet connection if you illegally downloaded music. A logical condition for the exercise of such acts of enforcement is that Internet traffic must be systematically monitored for possible breaches of authors' rights. "This big brother behaviour is of course in conflict with your right to privacy and with the freedoms of the citizen. It really can't be allowed. The IP would be acting as judge and jury," says Liotard. "'We will be voting against these proposals and doing all we can to preserve the neutrality of the Internet. For the rest, the SP will be supporting the report.'

Secret IP address?

Finally, in relation to privacy the question of your IP address is also sensitive. The SP strongly believes this, and therefore that it must be protected against those who would pry. Rapporteur Malcolm Harbour has given no answer to this troublesome question, but calls on the European Commission to look into it and draw up a report. We must therefore bide our time until we see what the Commission has to say. If your IP address is worthy of protection, then a company such as Google, dependent as it is on targeted Internet ads aimed at the IP address of those who have called up a particular web page, might as well pack in.


Despite the fact that the original report would have brought improvements for the consumer, the SP on Wednesday voted against it, as the many amendments have removed its best features.

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