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Europe

EU Data-Storage Plan Worries Critics

In a bid to more easily track criminals, the EU is proposing a unified plan to save telecommunications data across Europe. But the lawmakers' zeal is making privacy activists nervous.

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Phone calls, e-mails, text messages: its all fair game

Data taken from cell phone calls led to the capture of those behind train bombings in Madrid in 2004. Now, the European Union has submitted a bill to unify regulations governing the storage of data from telephones, cell phones, and e-mail.

If passed, the bill would force phone networks in the EU to retain traffic data for one year, and Internet access providers for six months, for possible use in investigating organized crime and terrorism.

Bill needs approval

The bill, which in recent years has stalled over privacy issues, must win approval from all 25 EU governments to take EU-wide effect. Negotiations on data retention have made no progress in the past due to privacy concerns in some EU capitals and the European Parliament.

EU-Kommissar für Justiz- und Innenpolitik Franco Frattini

Franco Frattini

But EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini (photo) said the bill would not apply to the content of communications, only to numbers dialed, locations used, and Web sites that officials may want to explor in connection with criminal investigations.

Some member states worry that involving the European parliament will slow down legislation. EU lawmakers are seen as being more open to pressure from industry campaigners and civil liberties groups to water down the proposals.

German MP voices concern

European Member of Parliament Alexander Alvaro, who represents Germany's Free Democrat Party in Brussels, expressed mixed feelings regarding the commission's proposal. For one thing, the commission is now seeking to store yet more data than had originally been suggested, he said.

Moreover, the committee charged with deciding how much data should be stored in the future is not subject to any parliamentary control, Alvaro complained in an interview with DW-WORLD.DE.

But he agreed that the commission bill also had some good points. It is the first time that it was clear that industry may need to be reimbursed for additional costs, even if the ruling on this is left to member states. In addition, the commission said it would run periodic checks to evaluate whether retaining the data is actually useful.

Privacy compromised

Heiner Busch, editor of the German magazine "Civil Rights and the Police" and directing manager of the Committee for Basic Rights in Cologne, categorically rejected the EU plan.

"There is no proof that such preventive controls are effective, but it compromises telephone privacy," Busch said. "This discussion began even before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It has less to do with fighting terrorism than with an automatization of telecommunication surveillance."

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