Tired of waiting, online privacy advocates call to revive stalled legal reforms

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A webcam Copyright European Union, 2022
Copyright European Union, 2022
By Romane Armangau
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An open letter to the European Commission calls for a halt to surveillance ads and Facebook-style pay-or-consent models, and to protect encrypted communication.


Online rights activists have called for a sweeping overhaul of dated online privacy rules, in a letter published on Wednesday (24 April).

The EU’s ePrivacy legislation needs to protect encryption and remove Facebook-style pay-and-consent models, said an open letter to the European Commission sent by 14 organisations, including European Digital Rights (EDRi) and Access Now.

EU online privacy laws, first set out in 2002 and amended in 2006 and 2009, now seem dated given the rapid evolution of the internet.

But plans to reform the law to offer better online protections and new business opportunities – first set out in 2017 by the European Commission – have stalled due to disagreements between MEPs and EU member states.

A stalled reform

Lawmakers agreed on their draft of the bill right away in 2017, and governments – who meet in a body known as the Council – did so in 2021. But technical talks between the two have failed to reach agreement on the majority of its provisions.

According to the EDRi letter, that's due to pressure from big advertising companies, publishers and telecom operators who managed to "successfully block the critical reform".

Dutch MEP Sophie in ’t Veld, who leads talks on behalf of the centrist Renew Europe grouping, told Euronews that the impasse shows "member states seem to be only interested in keeping the status quo: massive tracking of online behaviour by companies and widespread surveillance by state authorities.”

Another EU official described that as an “unfair” accusation.

“Consecutive Council presidencies tried to find some common ground these last years”, said the official, speaking to Euronews on condition of anonymity, adding that the sensitivity of various privacy issues made it impossible to move forward.

The official acknowledged that the reform hadn’t been a priority, citing the large volume of digital legislation under deliberation.

“ePrivacy remains stuck,” said the official, who doesn’t expect developments in the near future given elections due in June.

Priorities to guarantee online privacy

In the letter, the activists called for limits on data retention, worrying that commercial interests could interfere with privacy rights.

The letter calls to “put an end to surveillance advertising”, and replace it with more privacy-friendly methods such as contextual targeting.

They also called for a ban on “pay-or-consent" models, used by Meta’s social network Facebook and others.

Last week EU data protection authorities said online platforms should give users a real choice when allowing them to pay a fee for ad-free access. A Meta spokesperson has told Euronews its practice complies with EU law.

The letter also called for better default privacy standards in software and hardware and stressed the importance of end-to-end encryption to ensure messages stay confidential – and said that those who fear privacy rights have been infringed should get easier access to justice.


A spokesperson for the Belgian government, currently chairing Council talks, acknowledged the letter.

While no official talks are currently taking place on the reform, telecommunications ministers will refer to the topic as part of their input to the next Commission, due to come out on 21 May, the Belgian spokesperson said.

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