Hotels May Be Subject to Strict EU Rules for Providing Wi-Fi

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New rules in the Netherlands could force hotels to register as ISPs, thus subject to the E.U.'s stringent rules on data retention.

Following an "unspecified complaint," the Dutch telecommunications authority OPTA has said that some hotels that offer free Wi-Fi to their guests must register as Internet providers. Under the Dutch Telecommunications Act, "public electronic communications providers" are required to register in order to monitor crime and terrorism, explained Cynthia Heijne of OPTA.

The European Commission has not commented on the legality of this move, which has raised questions about whether small hotels have the resources to comply with the strict Data Retention Directive.

A member of the European Parliament's Civil Liberties committee, Alexander Alvaro, has said that he will send a written question to the Commission in order to verify whether the Data Retention Directive would really be applied in this regard. "If yes, this would raise many data protection concerns and once again prove the absurdity of this directive," he said.

The directive requires member states to ensure that communications providers retain enough data to trace and identify the source, destination, date, time and duration of a communication for up to two years.

Hotels are already required to retain some of this data about their guests, however if deemed "communications providers" they would also have to track who is logging on to Wi-Fi and when. This would likely require significant investment as hotels would have to supply personalized logins.

"This appears to be a solution in search of a problem, which will cause cost and inconvenience for travelers and hotels alike -- in a wider environment of profound levels of surveillance and access to personal data in the Netherlands. It is also worth noting that the U.K. presidency of the E.U. 'sold' data retention to the European Parliament on the basis that no company would have to retain data that it would not durably create and store already," said Joe McNamee of EDRI, the European digital rights organization.

The local hospitality association is also angry about the news. Horeca Netherlands, the umbrella organization representing catering businesses, alleged that it was merely a revenue-generating exercise. "Apparently, the crisis hit the telecom sector so hard that OPTA is looking for other sources to fund its activities," said the organization.

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