Telecoms companies can currently process 'traffic' or location data if it has been anonymised or if they have consent to do so from customers, but only for limited purposes set out in the EU's Privacy and Electronic Communications (e-Privacy) Directive. Traffic data is information that is processed when electronic communications are transmitted.
Traffic data can be processed, providing consent has been obtained, for the purpose of marketing electronic communications services or for the provision of value added services. Location data other than traffic data can only be processed with consent "to the extent and for the duration necessary for the provision of a value added service".
Telecoms industry bodies have long bemoaned the rules. They believe the rules place them at a disadvantage compared to other communication providers that are not subject to the e-Privacy regime. Over-the-top communication (OTT) service providers, such as Skype and WhatsApp, offer services that fall outside the scope of the rules and so their use of customer data is governed by more general data protection laws. EU data protection law allows businesses to process personal data without customer consent under certain circumstances and it does confine businesses to processing that data in line with set purposes.
According to a report by Reuters, the European Commission will publish plans to reform the e-Privacy Directive in January. The news agency said it had seen a draft of the proposals under consideration.
Reuters said that, according to the draft, telecoms companies would be allowed to process traffic or location data with customers' consent under the new regime, and appeared to suggest that conditions on the purposes for which that processing could be carried out would be lifted. It said the new consent rules would also apply, for the first time, to OTT service providers, and would mirror those laid out under the EU's new General Data Protection Regulation, which comes into force in May 2018.
New laws on the use of 'cookies' will also be contained in the new proposals, Reuters said.