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Business must keep an eye on Web Law

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Everyone is talking about privacy laws and the need for Parliament to legislate for the problems raised by the new online communities such as Twitter, but we haven't heard much about the EU's Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive, with new amendments that were set to have full force from the end of May. And although the very mention of 'Brussels directive' has the potential to turn-off any listener, these new regulations are set to radically change the way companies do business and market themselves on the internet. Stringent new rules require web-site owners to obtain consent before installing so-called 'cookies' on the computer of visitors to their site. Cookies are small files which enable websites to store data relating to users. At its most innocent and basic, a cookie enables the website of an on-line shop to record what is in your basket as you surf the virtual shopping aisles, or to know what scene you have reached if you are watching a drama on-line. But cookies can also be used to record your preferences and behavioural patterns for targeted advertising, and data collected by one website can be passed on to another business. In future, if a cookie is not essential, the website will have to obtain the user's consent to install it on their computer. But how this consent is to be sought and given is a question that nobody can answer at present. The Department for Culture Media and Sport says that it will be consulting with the industry and that rules will be phased in. In view of this delay against the original timetable for the legislation, the Information Commissioner has said that everyone will be given twelve months to get their house in order. But this does not mean that the Information Commissioner's Office will let everyone off the hook. The Commissioner has warned: "Those who choose to do nothing will have their lack of action taken into account when we begin formal enforcement of the rules". Said commercial law expert Neil Ashford of Chelmsford Solicitors Gepp & Sons : "The 12 month breathing space is just as well, given that a business could be fined £500,000 for failing to obtain consent in accordance with the rules. "But there's a clear warning that business must get ready for the introduction of the new rules on cookies and they must be on the alert for statements and advice from the Department for Culture Media and Sport over the coming months." He added: "Websites and sales procedures are going to have to be reviewed comprehensively ready for when the rules are in place and evidence of prompt action will be essential if a heavy fine is to be avoided." • For additional information or comment please contact:Neil Ashford of Gepp & Sons. The above is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

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