The Irish government will now have the final say on allowing unsolicited e-mail for marketing purposes only with the prior consent of subscribers ('opt-in') or just giving subscribers the right to insist on being removed from mailing lists ('opt-out').
The decision flies against the European Commission's goal of a single EU system for the information society.
The Parliament was debating a directive on the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector. MEPs recommended that subscribers have the right to ask for their names to be removed from printed or electronic directories. But they want any data beyond what is necessary to identify a subscriber only to be listed with that person's prior consent.
The Parliament did vote in favour of allowing direct marketing by fax, SMS or automated calling systems only with the consent of subscribers. It also approved an amendment allowing companies to use e-mail addresses obtained from clients for direct marketing on the understanding that subscribers could be removed from the list at no cost.
Andrew O'Shaughnessy, managing director of Irish e-mail services company E-Search, said the Irish Internet Association and other industry groups had come out in favour of an 'opt-in' law against spamming.
"Keeping an opt-out register puts a great onus on companies and I am yet to be convinced that a central opt-out register would work practically. The opt-in solution is really clear - unless you ask for it, you don't get it," he said.
The directive allows member states to temporarily alter data protection provisions to safeguard national security, defence, public security, the prevention, investigation or prosecution of criminal offences.
Ireland is due to incorporate a previous European directive on data protection into Irish law before the end of this year, to bring data protection legislation here in line with the rest of the EU.
The European Parliament is on-line at http://www.europarl.eu.int and more information on data protection legislation in Ireland can be found at http://www.dataprivacy.ie.