European telecommunication ministers agreed yesterday that unsolicited email and text messages — spam — should be prohibited under a new data protection law. They also agreed to allow leeway for law enforcement to access logs of email and telephone traffic.

The positions put the ministers at odds with the European Parliament, which two weeks ago voted in favour of tighter controls on law enforcement access to these logs, and against a ban on spam.

The ministers also agreed on a legal basis for the use of cookies, calling for websites to give consumers prior notice that they are downloading cookies to their PCs, and banning the use of spy cookies, which extract information from a PC and send it back to the site responsible for installing them.

Belgium's telecommunication minister Rik Daems, who chaired yesterday's meeting, would not reveal the exact wording of the agreement, but warned that the negotiations on the issue with the European Parliament will be "tough".

The Council of Ministers and the European Parliament are the two legislative bodies with power to make European Union laws.

EU heads of state agreed last year on an aggressive legislation drive to make Europe the most competitive economy in the world within 10 years. One element was to settle telecom legislation, including data protection issues, by the end of 2001.

Daems has until the middle of next week to find a compromise between the Parliament and the Council of Ministers. If he fails, the Parliament will vote on the issue in a plenary session and will almost certainly reject the Council's decision. This would push the two legislative bodies into a conciliation process, chaired by the European Commission.