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Mobile phone companies and net service providers have slammed proposed European laws on data retention as illegal, expensive and intrusive.

The plans call for the compulsory retention of communications data by communications providers for a period of at least 12 months.

In practice, this will mean mobile phone and internet companies will have to retain information about successful and unsuccessful calls, including the location of the caller as well as the timing, destination and duration of the call.

ISPs meanwhile would not have to track a user's browsing history, but would be obliged to store details of when each customer logged on and off the network.

European legal experts and MEPs have long since denounced the proposals as illegal, but now the affected industries are getting more vocal about the impact the laws would have on their bottom lines.

The European Telecommunications Network Operators's Association (ETNOA) called on UK Home Secretary Charles Clarke and his fellow ministers to engage in fuller discussions with industry.

Michael Bartholomew, a spokesman for the organisation, said the case for the compulsory retention of communications data had not been proven, and argued that tracking data for unsuccessful calls would be extraordinarily expensive, with operators having to make system changes costing in the region of £108m each.

"We think this is a rather unsophisticated approach to a complex problem," he told The Guardian.

Clarke says he hopes to get the bill approved by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, a new digital rights organisation, founded by digital rights campaigners including Danny O'Brien, Suw Charman, and Cory Doctorow, has said that Clarke's plans for data retention will be its first campaign target.

The Open Rights Group (Org) which was formed thanks to money raised via the Pledgebank website, says that the proposal in unnecessary, unworkable, and might contravene the European Convention on Human Rights.

It also says it will work alongside existing rights organisations like Privacy International, the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure and No2ID.

However, another digital rights group, Citizens Online, said it was concerned that Org would focus primarily on middle class issues. It claims questions of web accessibility and the digital divide mattered more to more people.

But Org co-founder Suw Charman told the BBC: "We all have mobile phones, medical records and the right to vote anonymously, so we are all affected by the way that new technology is being used by government and big business. Whether people are online or not, it is vital that we protect their digital rights." ®

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