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EU law bods closer to baking new 'cookie law' after battle

Narrow vote goes against the 'it'll stifle innovation' crowd

MEPs have today voted in favour of moving on with legislation that aims to give users more rights over websites that wish to track them.

The highly anticipated vote came after a week of political wrangling by centre-right MEPs, who have said that the ePrivacy regulation as it stands would "stifle innovation".

The committee tasked with leading the policy's progress through parliament passed the rules last week – 31 in favour, 24 against – but opposition MEPs then forced a full vote on the legislation in today's plenary session of the European Parliament.

The latest vote was again a close-run affair, with 318 for, 280 against and 20 abstentions, but it gives parliament the mandate it needs to begin negotiations with the Council.

The move has been welcomed by privacy campaigners and pro-privacy MEPs, who believe the proposed rules - which will update a directive last amended in 2009 - are necessary to prevent companies excessive snooping on users.

The proposals extend rules on telcos to over-the-top services like WhatsApp, give users the right to object to being tracked, and ensure that, even if a user rejects cookies, they must be allowed access to the site.

But debate about the proposals has become an increasingly bitter battle between those who want increased privacy, and the advertising and telco industry.

Opponents argue that it will it impossible for companies to make money from online services - although the rules are related to tracking, rather than simply online ad sales.

But EU lawmakers - including Andrus Ansip, Commission veep for the digital single market - who are in favour of the position say it will offer more flexibility, while offering users more rights.

Paul Bernal, a privacy and IT expert at the University of East Anglia, told The Reg that the result suggested that the parliament had resisted such lobbying, saying it "has effectively seen through their arguments".

He added that the position adopted by the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs committee (LIBE), and now the parliament as a whole, "may even be one of the strongest pro-privacy positions we’ve seen in law".

"The old argument that privacy is dead has been blown out of the water. Clearly, privacy still matters to people a lot."

However, some have argued that this means the legislation is not properly balancing consumer and company needs.

"The openness for cookies and avoiding the situation that all our consents should go via big browsers is key for the publishers, especially for small local websites," said Michal Boni, MEP for the European People’s Party and a member of the LIBE committee.

He urged all parties, groups and institutions to work together on “improving the text, looking for the balanced solution…between innovation and respect of the citizens’ rights and expectations” as it enters the next stage of the EU policy-making trilogue. ®

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