The UK government is to be taken to the European Union Court of Justice over its failure fully to implement rules relating to the confidentiality of electronic communications such as email or internet browsing.
The action is being brought by the European Commission (EC), and refers specifically to existing UK laws governing the confidentiality of electronic communications, which contravene the nation's obligations under EU law, according to the Commission.
These laws are set out in ePrivacy Directive 2002/58/EC and Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC, and the Commission outlined the three specific concerns it has about the UK's stance on data protection relating to these directives.
The UK could face an unlimited fine for non-compliance if found guilty, according to legal experts.
First, the UK lacks an independent national authority to supervise the interception of some communications, despite this being required under the ePrivacy and Data Protection Directives.
Secondly, UK law currently authorises the interception of communications when the person intercepting the communications has "reasonable grounds for believing " that consent to do so has been given.
The Commission said that this does not comply with EU rules specifying that consent must be a "freely given, specific and informed indication of a person's wishes".
Lastly, current UK laws that prohibit the unlawful interception of data are limited to "intentional" interception only, whereas EU law requires that all member states prohibit and introduce sanctions against all unlawful interceptions, regardless of intent.
The Home Office issued a statement saying that it is "disappointed" that the case had been referred to the European Court of Justice, but that it is working on the issues outlined.
"We are planning to make changes to address the Commission's concerns, and will be setting out more detail on any necessary amendments or legislation in due course," a spokesperson said.
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