French campaigners win concession in mobile privacy row

French mobile phone users have six months in which to opt out of being included in a national directory

A decree passed in France last week means phone users can now sign up free to a special 'red list' in order to keep all their details out of a directory of all landline and mobile numbers. The decree also allows the CNIL -- National Commission for Information and Civil Liberties -- to punish cases of unsolicited marketing by fax.

The Commission is congratulating itself after the French government followed its stance over the creation of a free 'red list' and measures to punish unsolicited marketing by fax -- crucial areas, according to the Commission, when it comes to data protection. The French industry minister published a decree last week, establishing a 'universal directory', collecting the details of all phone users, including those on mobile networks.

The Commission was consulted in 2002 on the issue: the CNIL highlighted to the government the necessity of explicitly getting the consent of subscribers before they appear on such a list. The Commission also recommended that signing up to non-inclusion lists should be free, whether consumers ask to be put on France Telecom's 'red list' (no details to be made available in any way) or an 'amber list' (no details to be included in the directory).

The government decided to follow the recommendations: "Every subscriber can object, free of charge, to having their details included in (any universal) directory or having them given out by a telephone information service", explained the CNIL. Moreover, mobile phone operators must warn their clients that from now on they will be liable to appear on such a list.

Subscribers have six months to object. The Commission warned: "After this time, they will be automatically included in the directory but their details won't, however, be used in any direct marketing operations."

The Commission is equally happy to see the decree implementing new punishments in the case of marketing by fax without getting the user's prior consent. According to the decree, a €750 fine is planned for each message sent illegally.

"This piece of legislation will be particularly useful for the Commission, which still receives huge amounts of complaints from users receiving advertising faxes", the CNIL said.

Silicon.com's Jo Best contributed to this story.