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Telephone bills: data privacy need not preclude individual billing of calls, says European Court of Justice

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22.10.2004 | Čítalo: 7338 | Diskusia: 0

European Court of Justice strengthens Consumers´ rights in two rulings EU data privacy rules need not prevent telephone operators from providing telephone bills that list individual calls, and there need not be any extra charge for this service, said the European Court of Justice in a judgment given on 14 September. The Court upheld the European Commission’s case that Austria had failed to ensure that bills for using the fixed public telephone network were itemized in sufficient detail to allow users to check individual calls. Standard itemized bills could provide a higher level of detail, at no extra cost to subscribers, it noted. The Court rejected Austria’s argument that because the itemized billing provisions of Directive 98/10/EC are subject to data privacy protection, no additional levels of detail could be offered to subscribers at reasonable tariffs. Finally, the Court found that Austria had failed to provide detailed arguments supporting its assertion that bills more detailed than those currently required in Austria would infringe data protection legislation.

“This judgment sets an important universal service precedent in voice telephony – that you have a right to see individually the calls that you’re paying for, and at no extra cost” commented Enterprise and Information Society Commissioner Olli Rehn. “If operators wish to supply additional detail at extra cost, and subscribers wish to pay for it, then that is of course a matter for them”, he added.

Whilst acknowledging that the itemized billing provisions do not state specifically what should appear on standard itemised bills, the Court found that the form of billing required in Austria only allows subscribers to deduce that they have made a certain number of calls costing a certain total amount within the tariff bands covered by the bill. It is not possible to identify, within the tariff bands, each call individually and hence to check whether it was in fact made.

Paragraph 19 of the judgment on case C-411/02 (Commission v. Austria), states that: “A billing system which shows only the number of calls, the total number of tariff units used and the corresponding price does not therefore allow verification and control of the charges incurred in using the fixed public telephone network as required by Article 14(2) “.

In another voice telephony judgment, on 9 September, the Court found that France had failed to comply with its obligation to ensure, by 1 January 2000, that all subscribers are able to retain their existing telephone number on the fixed public telephone network when they switch to a new supplier of telephone services (case C-113/03).

The case related to non-geographic numbers, used principally for such things as free-phone and shared revenue services, which are an increasingly important facility for access to end users. The ruling makes it clear that what matters is whether the possibility of retaining a number is effectively available to all subscribers of such numbers, irrespective of the supplier of the service. This same principle of effective availability is relevant to other services of importance to consumers, and mandated under EU law, such as mobile number portability and carrier pre-selection.

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