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European Union proposals on data retention would compel telecom firms to keep customer email logs, details of internet usage and phone call records for at least a year.

That's the gist of proposals leaked via civil liberties group Statewatch, which says the plans increase law enforcement powers without adequate civil liberties safeguards.

In the name of tackling "terrorism" the EU's Justice and Home Affairs Minister decided last September that law enforcement agencies needed to have access to all traffic data (phone-calls, mobile calls, emails, faxes and internet usage) for the purpose of criminal investigations in general. The data would not include the contents of messages - only the timing, source and destination of communications.

A 1997 EC Directive on privacy in telecommunications, which said that traffic data could only be retained for billing purposes prior to its erasure, stood in the way of this ambition.

A deal agreed between the Council (the 15 governments) and the two largest parties in the European Parliament (PPE, conservative and PSE, Socialist groups) pulled the teeth from the 1997 directive on privacy. The obligation to erase data was removed and this enabled governments to adopt laws for data retention if national parliaments agreed.

However document leaked to Statewatch show EU governments always intended to introduce a law to bind all member states to adopt data retention.

This draft Framework Decision says that data should be retained for 12 to 24 months in order for law enforcement agencies to have access to it. Records would only become available to law enforcement agencies after judicial approval, though Statewatch expresses grave doubts about this and argues that the proposals are the 'thin end of the wedge'.

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, said that the framework furthers a move from targeted police surveillance powers to "potentially universal surveillance".

"The right to privacy in our communications - e-mails, phone-calls, faxes and mobile phones - was a hard-won right which has now been taken away. Under the guise of fighting "terrorism" everyone's communications are to be placed under surveillance, he said.

"Gone too under the draft Framework Decision are basic rights of data protection, proper rules of procedure, scrutiny by supervisory bodies and judical review."

On August 14, the Danish Presidency put out to all EU governments a "Questionnaire on traffic data retention" for completion and return "preferably by e-mail" by Monday 9 September, which will form the basis of further EU action. ®

Related Stories

MEPs vote for Big Brother
European Parliament poised to cave in on Internet privacy?
World leaders use terror card to watch all of us. Forever
Spam out, cookies tolerated, data retention remains: EU

External Links

Statewatch's analysis of the draft Framework decision (and links to other documents)

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