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EU looking at extending some telecom security rules to WhatsApp and Skype

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(Reuters) — The European Union is set to extend some security rules currently only applicable to telecom operators to web services such as WhatsApp, Skype and Apple Inc’s FaceTime, according to a draft proposal seen by Reuters.

The European Commission, the EU executive, will unveil a proposed reform of its 15-year-old telecom rules next week in which it will extend some provisions to web companies offering calls and messages over the Internet, so-called “over the top players.”

Telecom companies such as Vodafone, Orange, and Deutsche Telekom have long complained that web groups including Alphabet Inc’s Google, Microsoft and Facebook are more lightly regulated despite offering similar services and have called for the EU’s telecoms-specific rules to be repealed.

Under the draft directive, over the top services will have to ensure the security and integrity of their services, including reporting breaches to authorities and having contingency plans and service continuity strategies.

The proposal is part of a broader drive to level the playing field between European companies and mainly U.S. tech firms.

However the proposal does allow for some of the security obligations to be lighter for services which like, for example, WhatsApp, do not exercise control over the transmission of their services over telecom networks.

“Providers of such services should thus ensure a level of security commensurate with the degree of risk posed to the security of the communications services they provide,” the document says.

“Therefore, whenever it is justified by the actual assessment of the security risks involved, the security requirements … should be lighter.”

Companies will be required to notify national authorities “without undue delay” of a security breach which has a significant impact on the operation of their service.

The Commission has previously said it was considering extending some security obligations to web services given their increasing equivalence to traditional phone calls and text messages.

Over the top services using a number or allowing users to call a number, such as Skype Out and messaging app Viber Out, will also have to offer emergency calls under the new rules.

The Commission will propose giving all European consumers the right to affordable basic broadband, which will enable them to check emails and access online banking, meaning national governments will have to provide public money to ensure universal coverage.

The proposal will need to be approved by the European Parliament and EU member states before becoming law, meaning it is likely to undergo changes.

(Reporting by Julia Fioretti; Editing by Mark Potter)

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