A consistent data protection framework is needed for both industry and consumers, say the operators. They support the harmonisation objective of the proposal, but want to stress that technology and service neutrality has not been sufficiently addressed yet.
"While policymakers may have felt specific telecom privacy rules were justified in the past, the rules no longer seem appropriate," said Martin Whitehead, director of GSMA Europe.
Whitehead, whose organisation represents the interests of mobile operators, added that it makes little sense to single out one particular sector when there is such a broad range of online service companies collecting and processing large volumes of functionally equivalent data.
"Against a background of global competition in innovative services, the co-existence of the ePrivacy Directive and General Data Protection Regulation would be incompatible with technology and service neutrality, and the need to provide users with consistent privacy experiences," Whitehead said.
The message was backed by the European Telecommunications Network Operators (ETNO), which represents fixed telecoms operators. Both GSMA and ETNO consider an overhaul of the European data protection rules as an opportunity to harmonise the handling of personal data across Europe.
"Were the current e-Privacy Directive and the proposed General Protection Regulation to co-exist, a number of difficulties which are already seen under existing regulatory regime, would be experienced by both businesses and consumers," said Daniel Pataki, the director of ETNO, which represents 38 member companies and 12 observers in the ICT sector in Europe.
He mentioned that telecoms companies and their consumers would face dual compliance regimes, and so be disadvantaged in competition. Consumers would face inconsistent privacy experiences for functionally equivalent services.
"They would need to be aware of whether a service was being provided by a telecoms operator or an online service provider in order to assess their rights," Pataki added.