ICO warns UK businesses: New EU cookies law must be followed

Monday night saw a warning to all business from the Information Commissioner’s Office that they must “wake up” and take action to a new law, which will be enforced on the 25th May 2011. This law changes the EU’s Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive. The change will require business to obtain website visitors permission to store and retrieve usage information from users’ computers.

A cookie is a piece of text stored on a users computer by their web browser. It is generated by the websites that the user visits and usually stores information that can be users to save user preferences, shopping carts and authentication.

Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, said:

“While the roll out of this new law will be a challenge, it will have positive benefits as it will give people more choice and control over what, information businesses and other organisations can store on and access from consumers’ own computers.

“The Directive will come into force in less than two months time and businesses and organizations running websites in the UK must wake up to the fact that this is happening. We are proactively working with the government, businesses and the public sector to find a workable solution. We recognize that the internet as we know it today depends on the widespread use of cookies and there are of course legitimate business reasons for using them. So we are clear that these changes must not have a detrimental impact on consumers nor cause an unnecessary burden on UK businesses. One option being considered is to allow consent to the use of cookies to be given via browser settings.

“Once the new regulations are published there will be a major job of education and guidance to be undertaken. In the meantime, both the business community and public sector organizations need to start thinking clearly about how they will meet the requirements of the new Directive.”

The law change is being lead by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. With Ed Vaizey commenting. “Businesses need to be working to address the way they use cookies. We recognize that work will not be complete by the implementation deadline. The government is clear that it will take time for meaningful solutions to be developed, evaluated and rolled out.”

Justice Minister Lord McNally said:
“A strong and independent Information Commissioner is vital to ensuring our personal data is kept safe, as well as keeping public bodies open to scrutiny. The government recently announced measures to enhance the ICO’s independence even further, by giving it more freedom to make corporate and operation decisions..

“As technology advances it brings new opportunities, but also new ways our data can be misused, which is why we have been gathering evidence on how the current data protection laws are working and considering ideas on how the current data protection regime can be improved.”

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