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The official EU body that represents the member governments will recommend the long-term retention of personal data at a meeting with the European Commission later this month, according to documents leaked to London-based civil liberties journal Statewatch.

The Council of the European Union, which represents the 15 member governments, will discuss implementing a policy originally designed with the FBI six years ago. It calls for the retention of "every phone call, every mobile phone call, every fax, every e-mail, every website's contents, all internet usage, from anywhere, by everyone, to be recorded, archived and be accessible for at least seven years," notes the journal.

The proposal gives law enforcement agencies powers far beyond authorised, approved interceptions. Existing provisions permit data to be retained for the length of the billing period, up to 90 days.

The proposals are being rushed in front of the European Commission before the European Parliament can agree on a common privacy position in June. The Parliament is already working on personal privacy legislation, and bouncing the other two European institutions now is the Eurocops' best chance of putting their draconian provisions into place.

Anonymity is bad for business

Last November, the Council's Working Party on Police Co-operation put its case succinctly:- "It is impossible for investigation services to know in advance which traffic data will prove useful in a criminal investigation. The only effective national legislative measure would therefore be to prohibit the erasure or anonymity of traffic data."

The European Commission's Justice and Home Affairs Council will debate the proposal on May 28.

The law enforcement agencies, argues the proposal, must have access to "user addresses, equipment identities, user name/passwords, port identities, mail addresses etc" The agencies are also to be provided with "the full name of the person (company), the residential address and credit card details."

The Council's proposal takes its cue from UK law enforcement body NCIS (National Criminal Intelligence Service), which last year proposed that telcos and ISPs store data for one year for 'real-time monitoring' purposes, after which the data would be archived for seven more years in a gigantic new data warehouse.

This paragraph in the NCIS document justifies the demands:-

"The Police Service is now in its third major era ... and is now a directed patrolling, proactive and reactive investigation service," notes the document. "The Crime and Disorder Act empowers ... the national law enforcement bodies in appropriate intrusive data collection in their central role. The lack of appropriate legislation on communications data retention does not sit happily with this strategic direction." [our emphasis]

A gallery of baddies, ranging from organised crime to the authors of the Melissa and I Love You viruses, are evoked to justify the draconian new approach to Lauren Order.

In the looking-glass world of law enforcement, the cops and spooks argue that long-term data retention actually boosts the public's faith in e-commerce:-

"The obligation for operators to erase and make traffic data anonymous, besides obstructing seriously crime investigations, also can lead to a decreasing confidence in, particularly, the electronic commerce..." according to the leaked document.

The EU's own privacy watchdogs - regularly criticised for the opt-outs provided to law enforcement agencies - have condemned the move. The International Working Group on Data Protection in Telecommunications deems the storing of data on all telecommunications and Internet traffic for extended periods "disproportionate and therefore unacceptable." Even the Council's own documents accept that the cops' demands "would probably not be considered proportionate."

Statewatch editor Tony Bunyan was officially refused the documents on the grounds that public oversight would "impede the efficiency of the ongoing deliberations".

Statewatch has launched a new website SOS Europe with Privacy International to highlight the proposal. It contains full texts of the leaked deliberations here.

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