Computer Cookies and the Privacy and Electronic Communications EC Directive Amendment Regulations 2011

The new Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) (Amendment) Regulations which came into force in May 2011 will make a difference as to how users experience the internet, as users must now give their consent before computer ‘cookies’ can be placed on their machines.

Cookies are little pieces of information that many websites place on the hard drive of your computer or mobile device so that the website is able to ‘remember’ customer details and preferences.  There are two main types of computer cookies, session cookies (which expire when the browser is closed) and permanent cookies (which are permanently kept on the computer unless manually deleted by the user).

It used to be the case that all this went on without people ever really knowing.  However the change in EU law now means that websites have to ask for the user’s consent for cookies to be place on their machines.  The change in the law does not affect all types of cookies though.  For cookies that are deemed to be ‘strictly necessary’ the consent of the user is not needed.  An example of a ‘strictly necessary’ cookie is when you press ‘add to basket’ or ‘continue to checkout’ when shopping online. It is important that the browser remembers information from a previous web page in order to complete a successful transaction. 

Although this all seems very easy and plausible, there is some complication as how to get consent from the user when the majority of people who use the internet are almost completely unaware of cookies.

The UK Regulations allow for consent to be signified by browser settings allowing use of cookies and for initial consent to be carried over into repeated use of a website.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is reviewing the enforcement policiy and penalties around the Regulations.  Reviewing website terms and conditions and how users are made aware of cookies is likely to reduce the chance of finding out about that the hard way!

For legal advice about the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 for your business, please contact the Intellectual Property Solicitors at Forbes on freephone 0800 037 4628 or by email.

Daniel Milnes

About Daniel Milnes

Dan is a Partner and Head of Contracts & Projects. Dan’s blogs cover the areas in which his specialities lie in commercial, regulatory and governance law which cover a broad range of matters dealing with contracts, projects, corporate and group structures, funding and compliance with a range of legal regimes including data protection. This also involves writing and advising on various forms of commercial contracts including joint ventures, development and construction agreements and intellectual property contracts including IT agreements, sponsorships and other rights licensing arrangements.
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