|Author (Person)||Chapman, Peter|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol.10, No.36, 21.10.04|
By Peter Chapman
THE Dutch presidency has unveiled plans to dilute an anti-terrorist blueprint that would have forced network operators such as internet service providers and telecom firms to store masses of data on their customers for up to three years.
The original data retention proposal, launched in April, was the joint work of the UK, France, Ireland and Sweden.
They were responding to al-Qaeda's 11 March train bombings in Madrid, which left 200 people dead.
The four countries argued that the proposal would make it easier for law enforcement agencies to gain access to information that could give them vital clues about the comings and goings of terrorists, such as the mobile phone-toting al-Qaeda operatives who detonated the Madrid bombs.
However, the Dutch plan, discussed by diplomats this week, removes explicit mention of a three-year time span from the text, partly in response to critics who claimed the law compromised data privacy and human rights.
Instead the default period for data retention of billing data or technical information about communications such as text messages, websites visited and emails, would be cut to one year.
The law does not relate to the actual content of messages. However, it allows police forces to decipher who has spoken to whom and when - information which is nearly as valuable as the actual content of conversations for detecting crime.
Governments would be allowed to impose stricter restrictions on companies handling communications.
But these would be subject to a caveat included in the earlier draft that the longer periods be “a necessary, appropriate and proportionate measure within a democratic society”.
Member states refused to speak openly of the plan ahead of the talks.
Nevertheless, citizens' rights groups said the rules would still give law-enforcers carte blanche to violate citizens' privacy.
Ben Hayes of Statewatch said the Dutch plan would offer few advantages over the earlier proposals.
He said governments would still invoke the clause allowing them to force longer periods of data retention.
Police forces would have unrestricted access to data about people before they had committed any crime, without prior approval for snooping from a magistrate or judge.
“The 'proportionality and democracy test' means nothing. If they are saying that you must retain data for at least a year but you are free to go on longer, that is not placing any limit,” Hayes said.
IT experts and telecom operators have been consistently critical of the proposals. They argue that the plans would impose data storage obligations that would cost billions of euro to implement.
Thierry Dieu, spokesman for the European Telecommunications Networks Organization (ETNO), said firms had a long tradition of cooperation with law enforcement agencies.
However, operators say additional measures should be “proportionate to the benefits and in line with data-protection requirements”.
An alliance of 90 human rights and privacy groups from across the world petitioned the EU last month against the proposals. They endorsed a paper opposing the data blueprint, drawn up by lobby group Privacy International.
The Dutch presidency unveiled plans to dilute an anti-terrorist blueprint that would have forced network operators such as internet service providers and telecom firms to store masses of data on their customers for up to three years, October 2004.
|Subject Categories||Business and Industry, Internal Markets, Security and Defence|
|Countries / Regions||Europe|