Cookies and More: UK Implementation of the Electronic Communications Framework Announced

April 14, 2011

The updated directives must be implemented by May 25 and the Government has now published its final plans following a consultation, which was launched in December.

Communications Minister Ed Vaizey said:

‘Our use of digital technologies, mobile and fixed line phone services, e-mail and the internet continues unabated. The changes to the EU Electronic Communications Framework bring our regulatory framework up to date. They will help ensure there is a level playing field across Europe.’

The Government will adopt the amended Framework exactly as set out and will not ‘gold-plate’ the regulations by adding any additional measures, to ensure British firms can compete equally with the rest of Europe.

One of the most significant changes will be to the use of cookies.  Organisations running websites will need the user’s permission before a cookie can be used.

The Government takes the view that ‘the Internet would be severely restricted without cookies’ and cites concerns which were raised during the consultation that changes to the use of cookies could have serious impacts on the web. To address these concerns the Government will work with browser manufacturers to see if browser settings can be enhanced to meet the new EU requirements. 

Enhanced settings would present users with easily understandable choices on importing cookies on to their machine. The Government is also supporting cross-industry work on third party cookies in behavioural advertising. Adverts would have an easily recognisable icon so users could access more information and an option to refuse those and other cookies.

The Government states that ‘a one size fits all solution is not appropriate to the UK.  Flexibility is essential for innovation and new business models’.

It intends to set up a second working group with industry to explore other options to complement the guidance that will be issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Secondary legislation to make the changes law will be put before Parliament shortly in order to meet the May 25 deadline.

Mr Vaizey said: ‘We recognise that work on the technical solutions for cookie use will not be complete by the implementation deadline. It will take time for meaningful solutions to be developed, evaluated and rolled out. Therefore we do not expect the ICO to take enforcement action in the short term against businesses and organisations as they work out how to address their use of cookies.’

Many of the revisions to the Framework will have little impact in the UK as  the changes already exist in UK regulation.