GSMA and ETNO called for further action to ensure European operators are able to compete effectively with other players in the digital economy, as European Union (EU) member states agreed revised rules on e-privacy rules in the bloc.

In a joint statement, the industry associations welcomed the agreement, which comes after four years of regulatory wrangling. They said the telecoms industry was fully committed to the principle of confidential communications and supported the continent’s ambitions to lead the data economy.

They added the move was an important step in the right direction in efforts to align e-privacy with General Data Protection Rules (GDPR), but warned work was still needed.

“If regulatory asymmetries linked to the discrepancy between e-privacy and GDPR persist, European players will face hurdles: this is both a matter of competitiveness and ability to develop European data services inspired by European values,” they added.

The statement was in response to an agreement by the European Council to negotiate a mandate on updated e-privacy rules, which aims to define cases in which service providers are allowed to process electronic communications data, or have access to data stored on end user devices.

It follows work led by the Portuguese presidency to update the existing e-privacy directive from 2002 to cater for new technological and market developments, including widespread use of VoIP, web-based email and messaging services, and emerging techniques to track users’ online behaviour.

The draft legislation will repeal the existing directive, with the aim to cover electronic communications using publicly-available services and networks, and metadata (such as information on location and time) related to the communication.

In addition, to ensure full protection of privacy rights, and promote trusted and secure IoT, the rules will cover machine-to-machine data transmitted via a public network.

The Portuguese presidency will now begin talks with the European Parliament to define the final text.