EU law makers to discuss whether Facebook qualifies as critical infrastructure

The discussion will determine whether social networks must disclose data breaches

European legislators are about to reopen a debate on whether Facebook and Twitter should be subject to the same rules as power grids and payment services for protecting critical IT infrastructure and the data it carries.

The proposed rules require providers of essential energy, transport, banking and healthcare services to protect their communications networks from hacking and intrusion, and to disclose security breaches. "Key Internet enablers" such as e-commerce platforms and search engines might also have to comply with the rules.

Which companies the new law will cover, though, is a focus of upcoming negotiations between the three European Union law-making bodies.

The European Commission, which made the initial draft proposal, wants the law to cover Internet payment gateways, social networks, cloud computing services and app stores as well as search engines and e-commerce platforms.

However, industry lobbyist the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), representing Amazon.com, eBay, Google, Microsoft, PayPal, Facebook and others, told Europe's national telecom ministers last November that the law should focus on protection of truly critical infrastructure such as nuclear power plants and transportation facilities. Services like online gaming and social networks are not crucial and should be excluded from the scope of the law, the CCIA said.

The Council of the EU, the body in which the telecom ministers are gathered, is ready to start negotiations with the European Parliament and the European Commission about the matter -- but, a Council official said Thursday, its members do not agree on which companies the law should cover. The ministers first want the Commission to explain how companies such as social networks and cloud computing services, often based outside the EU, would be affected.

The Parliament approved the proposals in March last year, but held back from requiring companies such as Google, Amazon, eBay or Skype to report security incidents.

The Council wants to get the law approved as soon as possible, but must first reach agreement with the other two institutions. The three will next meet in late April.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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