Warning over moves to water down data privacy

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Series Details Vol.7, No.22, 31.5.01, p3
Publication Date 31/05/2001
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Date: 31/05/01

By Laurence Frost

DETAILS of all personal phone calls, emails, and faxes will be stored for years and made available to police if governments get their way,business and civil liberties groups are warning.

There are fears that diplomats meeting behind closed doors have been preparing moves to weaken EU laws on data privacy, so that operators will be forced to store personal data for up to seven years instead of deleting it.

According to a leaked text, justice and home affairs (JHA) ministers meeting earlier this week had been due to ask the European Commission to review data privacy laws, giving law enforcement agencies access to 'traffic data'. The timings and destination numbers of phone calls would be kept, along with credit card details and the contents of emails and faxes.

Diplomats privately confirm the conclusions were withdrawn from the agenda before Monday's meeting (28 May). A copy of the leaked text obtained by the civil liberties group Statewatch calls for "immediate action", saying the obligation on operators to erase data or make it anonymous "seriously obstructs" criminal investigations."Authoritarian and totalitarian states would be condemned for violating human rights if they initiated such practices," said Statewatch editor Tony Bunyan.

If adopted later, telecoms firms say the ministers' conclusions could have an impact on the revision of a 1997 telecoms data privacy directive currently in progress. The revision extends data privacy rules to cover electronic communications, compelling companies to delete data that is no longer needed for billing purposes.

The industry's trade association,the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (ETNO) fears pressure from the

JHA arena could result in the directive being weakened later in the legislative process. This would allow governments to introduce national obligations on data retention, damaging consumer confidence."As telecoms operators, it's not our role to act as policemen," said ETNO spokeswoman Fiona Taylor.

Data retention would also send storage costs sky-high and threaten security, the industry believes. "We would need data warehouses," said Taylor. "To have all that data in one place could create a hackers' paradise."

A spokesman for the Council of Ministers could not say whether the conclusions might be back on the agenda for the next meeting of JHA ministers in September. But insiders say the issue is the subject of a power struggle between national telecoms and interior ministries, with law enforcement agencies pushing for data retention.

Details of all personal phone calls, emails and faxes will be stored for years and made available to police if governments get their way, business and civil liberties groups are warning.

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http://www.statewatch.org/soseurope.htm http://www.statewatch.org/soseurope.htm

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Record URL https://www.europeansources.info/record/?p=257133