In Europe, after a draft law passed a main EU hurdle on Wednesday, chat applications such as Messenger or WhatsApp and video calls on Zoom face tighter privacy laws.
The 27 EU Member States have endorsed a plan that has been stalled since 2017, with countries divided between some that want tight online privacy and those who want to allow law enforcement and marketers leeway.
Portugal, which currently occupies the revolving EU presidency, proposed a consensus plan at a meeting in Brussels, which was accepted by a qualified majority.
Pedro Nuno Santos, Portugal’s Minister of Infrastructure, said, “The path to the council position has not been easy,”
“But we now have a mandate that strikes a good balance between solid protection of the private life of individuals and fostering the development of new technologies and innovation.”
France, which aims to provide the security forces with better instruments to tackle terrorism, wants to restrict the law’s limits on access to private records.
A big issue in many Member States has also been the war against child pornography.
Yet Germany supported, with fewer exceptions, much more stringent privacy laws.
In the approved text, member states agreed that service providers are
allowed “to safeguard the prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of criminal offences”.
Furthermore, businesses such as Facebook and Google can continue to process their users’ metadata, but only with their permission and whether the information becomes anonymous.
The final text also lent the advertising industry support and dropped a bill to outlaw so-called cookies that closely track internet consumer behavior.
The plan changes current EU regulations dating back to 2002, in which tight security of privacy extends only to text messages and voice calls delivered by conventional telecommunications giants, sparing technology.
Portugal would now discuss a definitive version of the plan with the European Parliament, which will then include approval by the MEPs and the 27 member states.
But the lead rapporteur of the parliament supervising the negotiations warned that the talks would be comprehensive.
“It is to be feared that the industry’s attempts to undermine the directive over the past years have borne fruit — they’ve had enough time to do that,” said Birgit Sippel, a German MEP from the center-left S&D party.
“We must now analyse in detail whether the proposals of the member states really contribute to better protecting the private communication of users online, or instead primarily serve the business models of some digital corporations.”