Answer given by Mr Liikanen on behalf of the Commission (23 October.2000)

The Commission presumes the Honourable Member is referring to the Regulation of Investigative Powers Act which was voted in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom on 26 July 2000. It received the royal assent on 28 July 2000.

The draft of this Act was notified to the Commission on 23 February 2000 under the procedure foreseen in Directive 98/34/EC of the Parliament and of the Council of 22 June 1998 laying down a procedure for the provision of information in the. field of technical standards and regulations1, also called the "transparency directive".

The Commission is currently examining the Act to determine if it is compatible with the provisions of several Community dispositions including the Annex to Directive 97/13/EC of the Parliament and of the Council of 10 April 1997 on a common framework, for general authorisations and individual licences in the field of telecommunications services2 which recognises that the, conditions for licences are "without prejudice ...to measures taken by the Member States in accordance with public interest requirements recognised by the Treaty [...] specifically in relation to [...] public security."

Further, Article 5 of Directive 97/66/EC of the Parliament and of the Council of 15 December 1997 concerning the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the telecommunications sector3 guarantees the confidentiality of communications by means of a public telecommunications network and publicly available telecommunications services. Member States shall prohibit the listening, tapping, storage or other kinds of interception or surveillance of communications by others than users, without the consent of the users concerned, except when legally authorised in accordance with Article 14(1) . According to this Article, Member States cannot limit by law their obligation of ensuring the confidentiality of networks for reasons of important economic or financial interest of a Member State, unless it is necessary to safeguard national security, defence, public safety, the prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of criminal offences or of unauthorised use of the telecommunications system. In addition Directive 97/66/EC provides for protection of the legitimate interests of legal persons as subscribers of telecommunication services, for example business companies and the secrecy of their communications over public networks.

In addition Directive 95/46/EC of the Parliament and of the council of 24 October 1995 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data. and on the tree movement of such data4 ensures free flow of data. Directive 97/66/EC complements and specifies the general directive for the processing of personal data and in particular the confidentiality of communications in the telecommunications ,sector. It also protects data and communications of legal persons.

Finally the Commission is examining the Act in the light of Article 49 (ex Article 59) of the EC Treaty to see if it creates any obstacles to the free movement of services of by imposing specific obligations on the providers of information society services related to the interception of telecommunications, the acquisition of communications data and access to encrypted data.

As for the second part of the question the Commission would like to inform the Honourable Member that the Commission is not aware of any attempt to impose built-in interception systems on a Community wide scale.

1 OJ L 204, 21.7.1998. 

2 OJ L 117, 7.5.1997. 

3 OJ L 24, 30.1.1998.

4 OJ L 281, 23.1l.199S.