A campaign has been launched to persuade Members of the European Parliament to reject proposals on data retention which critics believe will have grave civil liberties implications.
A debate on general data retention of communications for law enforcement authorities, scheduled for tomorrow and Thursday in Brussels, is critical, as it constitutes the major step before the final adoption of the new EU Communications Data Protection Directive.
The European Commission put forward a proposal on 12 July 2000 to introduce a number of non-controversial amendments to the EU Directive on privacy in the telecommunications sector.
By early last year it became clear that the Council of the European Union (which consists of ministerial level reps from each of the 15 governments) intended to use this opportunity to effect major changes to meet the long-standing demands by law enforcement agencies for the retention of all traffic and location telecommunications data (phone-calls, e-mails, faxes and internet usage) and access to it.
In reaction to September 11, the Council decided that the issue of data retention - not only to combat terrorism but crime in general - should be a priority.
In November 2001 the plenary session of the European Parliament adopted a first reading position which opposed the Council's demands.
This view was confirmed at the second reading in the Committee on Citizens' Freedoms and Rights on April 18 2002.
Last week, however, the PSE/socialist group in the European Parliament joined the EPP/conservative group and accepted the demands of EU governments and law enforcement agencies to place communications under surveillance. They have tabled an amendment which reverses the Parliament's previous opposition to data retention, in a move described by critics as a 'cave in' which will do little to combat terrorism.
Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, said: "The EU governments already have all the powers they need under the existing Directive to combat terrorism, this measure has nothing to do with terrorism. The proposal by the EU governments is a cynical exploitation of public sentiment to introduce draconian powers to potentially place the whole population of Europe under surveillance."
"The European Parliament took a principled stand in November 2001 and on 18 April. Now it appears that the two largest parties - the EPP and PSE - may simply turn tail and accept the governments' demands," he added.
Someone to watch over everyone
According to Statewatch a number of EU governments are working on a
draft Framework Decision to make it binding on all 15 EU states to implement a new law requiring the retention of traffic and location data - as soon as opposition in the European Parliament is overcome.
A letter, protesting the proposals, has been endorsed by 16,206 signatories, including individuals and 40 civil liberties organisations from 15 countries. Campaigners are urging MEPs to vote with their conscience - and oppose the controversial amendment.
The EU Communications Data Protection Directive includes proposals on spam and cookies, themselves controversial subjects, but wrangles over these subjects have receded as the focus has moved onto the controversial subject of data retention. ®
The long and torrid history of the Communications Data Protection Directive
Spam out, cookies tolerated, data retention remains: EU 7 December 2001
Europe told to rethink e-privacy directive 6 December 2001
EU wages war on cookie monster 14 November 2001
UK govt wants to decide own spam policy 30 October 2001
EU says 'oui' to spam 23 October 2001
EU anti-spam legislation up again this evening 22 October 2001
Euro spam vote in limbo 7 September 2001
MEP Cashman tries to support pro-spam stance 18 July 2001
Europe bottles spam ban 11 July 2001
Europe holds key vote on spam tomorrow 10 July 2001
Green light for Euro data retention plans 29 June 2001
Europe warms to spam ban 11 January 2001
Europe to ban spam? 8 November 2000
Anti-spammers petition European Parliament 19 April 1999