The European Commission has decided to take France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany and Ireland to the European Court of Justice over their failure to implement the data privacy directive.
Condemnation by the court could lead to the imposition of fines, but court procedures generally take about two years.
The step taken earlier this week represents the third stage in the European Union's infringement proceedings, which the Commission began last July. At that time the Commission gave nine EU countries two months in which to comply with the privacy directive.
Since then the U.K., Denmark, Spain and Austria brought their national rules into line with the EU directive, but the five countries cited this week have still failed to inform the Commission of compliance. Only Greece, Portugal, Sweden, Italy, Belgium and Finland implemented the privacy directive more or less on time in October 1998.
The data protection directive establishes a common regulatory framework for data transmission, to ensure both a high level of privacy for the individual and the free movement of personal data within the EU. The directive introduces high standards of data privacy to ensure the free flow of data throughout the 15 member states, and gives the individual the right to review personal data, correct it and limit its use. (See related story, "U.S., EU to Meet on Data Privacy.")