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EU stumps Clarke data retention plan

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UK home secretary Charles Clarke failed to get agreement to his proposals for an EU-wide data retention regime at an informal meeting of EU justice and home affairs Ministers in Newcastle last week, according to media reports.

He had been hoping to speed up draft EU legislation, put forward by the UK, France, Ireland and Sweden in April last year, and rejected by MEPs in June. The draft law would oblige the retention of communications data from phone calls and emails for a minimum period of 12 months.

The stored information would only include details on the date, time and location of the communication but not on the content of the conversation.

The UK has put renewed emphasis on the need for data retention since the London bombings, and in a major speech to the European Parliament last week, Charles Clarke warned that the ability of enforcement agencies to collect and use intelligence was being hampered by the current legal framework.

He put the issue before EU Ministers on Thursday, when existing plans for a Framework Decision on the retention of communications data were discussed.

If the Home Secretary can get Council approval for the Framework Decision, the proposals will be halfway towards being made into law, in a process that does not require the approval of MEPs.

The EU Commission is due to publish its own proposals on 21 September, but Commission-led legislation requires the approval of both the Council of Ministers and Parliament – and is therefore a much longer process.

According to reports, the Home Secretary did not in the end manage to gain ministerial approval for his proposals last week, after some Member States and industry representatives raised concerns over the expense and the impact on civil liberties.

Industry group the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association, which was invited to participate at the meeting, warned that the costs could be excessive.

"We think it's a rather unsophisticated approach to a complex problem," said Michael Bartholomew, the head of the lobbying group, according to The Scotsman newspaper. "The implications of this total package are very considerable, and it seems to me that we're talking about hundreds of millions of euros on a pan-European basis."

Five trade groups representing telcos, ISPs and other electronic communications services, jointly warned Ministers that the proposed measures would require operators to keep more types of data for longer periods than currently necessary for business purposes.

Significant additional investment will be needed to upgrade networks, set up systems for the collection, storage and retrieval of data, ensure the security of data and train staff, said the groups. They also expressed concern over the effectiveness and technical feasibility of the proposed measures.

"In essence," said the groups in a joint statement, "the current proposals are an active choice to move away from a proven and constructive approach, where industry's expertise and good-will are used to maximum effect to fight crime, towards an untargeted, expensive and all-pervasive approach."

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