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European Justice Ministers have agreed not to immediately force through plans for an EU-wide data retention scheme, but opted to negotiate with the European Parliament instead. MEPs had objected to the proposal, claiming that it breaches civil rights laws.

MEPs had even threatened to take the Council of Ministers to court if they were not allowed to participate in the legislative process, according to reports.

The Council of Ministers would prefer to have the cooperation of the European Parliament in creating the legislation but does not actually need it. UK Home Secretary Charles Clarke, on behalf of the EU Presidency – held by the UK until January – warned yesterday that he would push the measure through if MEPs have made no progress by the end of the year.

"We have reaffirmed that we will have agreement on measures to deal with telecoms data by the end of the British presidency,” he told the BBC. “We have agreed we will seek to join the European Parliament in that approach if we can."

Meeting in Brussels, Ministers agreed to a compromise deal that would oblige ISPs and telcos to retain fixed and mobile telephony data for a minimum period of 12 months, and IP-based communications data for a minimum period of six months.

The proposals allow for a maximum retention period of two years, although Member States, such as Ireland and Italy, who already have national retention periods going beyond that, will be allowed to stick to their existing timescales.

In addition, the deal allows Member States to decide at a national level whether to reimburse industry for the additional costs that the scheme will incur, and confirms that the measure will be reviewed after five years to ensure that it is working properly.

"This development today means justice and home affairs ministers are willing to accept a legal process that will let all branches of government decide the issue," a spokesman for EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini, told the International Herald Tribune.

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