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Data retention

November 12, 2010

Even as European countries propose data storage laws conforming to an EU directive, experts remain divided on whether the rules make sense. Sweden has become the most recent country enter the fray.

Network cables plugged into a server
EU rules call for storing telecom data for at least six monthsImage: AP

The Swedish government presented a draft legislation Thursday that requires telephone and Internet providers to retain all customer communication data for six months.

The bill was based on a European Union directive ordering member states to store telephone, e-mail and Internet usage data, as well as the location of mobile phones for at least six months.

"It is a necessary and effective tool that makes it easier to uncover some crimes," Justice Minister Beatrice Ask told reporters.

The European Commission has filed a complaint against Sweden for not yet complying with the 2006 EU directive. Ask said she hoped the draft law would help the Scandinavian country avoid massive fines.

Closeup of a list of phone numbers on a computer monitor
Phone data is also covered by the EU rulesImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

She added that Sweden had opted for the shortest possible retention period of six months, noting that there was "a wide gap" within the EU where some countries allow data to be retained up to two years.

"It has been important for us to create adequate protection for personal integrity," Ask said.

Police in Sweden, as well as Germany and other European countries, have called for longer retention periods and said the saved communications data played important roles in solving serious crimes.

European qualms

A law that would have brought Germany in line with the EU directive was ruled unconstitutional by the German Constitutional Court, the nation's highest court. A similar decision was made in Romania by a court there.

The head of Germany's Federal Criminal Police Agency, Joerg Ziercke, said Germany should re-enact a law saving telecommunications connection data.

Person wearing a black shirt with a red house and the words "Privacy is not a crime"
Some experts have said the rules infringe on people's privacyImage: AP

"Due to the fact that Internet providers are no longer required to store such data, there's a chance that police authorities will not be able to acquire relevant suspicious criminal data to conduct investigations," he said.

But privacy authorities have taken issue with the 2006 retention directive. In a report issued in July, the European Data Protection Authorities said telecom companies were saving and handing over data in ways that contradicted the directive and infringing on individuals' privacy.

"The data retention directive is a totally failed initiative," Joe McNamee of the European Digital Rights Initiative told Deutsche Welle. "The European Commission has had to postpone its report on its implementation repeatedly because it cannot find evidence to justify its existence."

In response to questions from national governments as well as the European Parliament, the European Commission has agreed to reevaluate the directive.

Author: Sean Sinico (AFP, dpa)

Editor: Stuart Tiffen