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Tuesday, 20 August, 2002, 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK
Privacy fears over EU snooping plans
Magnifying glass, Eyewire
Your online life could be visible to a lot of organisations
The records of who you contact via phone, web, fax or mobile could soon be stored for years under a proposal drafted by European governments.

If passed, the law would force anyone providing communication services to keep records for at least a year of what customers have been doing.

The records would be available to police forces across the European Union investigating almost any crime.

Civil liberty campaigners fear that the European law will endanger long-held rights to privacy and could tempt law enforcement agencies to go on fishing expeditions for evidence of wrongdoing.

Surveillance system

They also fear that the British Government could use the European law as an excuse to push through another piece of legislation currently threatened by legal objections.

The data retention plan was revealed by Statewatch, which monitors EU moves that impact civil liberties and privacy.


Once you start retaining the data it tends to hang around

Ian Brown, Foundation for Information Policy Research
Before now data protection laws meant that companies providing communication services could only keep information about customers as long as was necessary to generate bills.

But the EU proposal will make them store information for up to 24 months about who every EU citizen is calling, e-mailing or faxing.

The proposal will also allow the data to be shared among police forces across Europe.

The move has been brought in under the guise of aiding the fight against terrorism but the draft proposal allows the information to be used during the investigation of almost any serious crime.

Statewatch fears that the proposal is a precursor to another that will give police forces access to the contents of communications not just contact lists.

The watchdog also said the proposal also tramples on rights to challenge information being held or to contest decisions made on the basis of it.

The data retention proposal is due to be discussed in September

European excuse

In the UK civil liberty groups fear that the EU law will be used to help usher in another controversial law that also mandates data retention.

The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act was passed in December 2001 and also calls on companies providing communication services to retain data to help police investigate serious crimes.

The Act compels communication service providers to keep data for up to 12 months.

Ian Brown, director of the Foundation for Information Policy Research, said Act's data retention powers had not been enacted because of worries voiced by the Information Commissioner.

Legal opinion sought by the Information Commissioner said the data retention powers could contravene European laws on human rights and privacy.

"It could be a convenient excuse to blame Brussels," said Mr Brown. "But it's difficult to see how it could be stopped."

Mr Brown also had doubts that information would be deleted once its expiry period had been reached.

"The problem is that once you start retaining the data it tends to hang around," he said.

See also:

12 Nov 01 | Science/Nature
15 Feb 02 | Science/Nature
09 Oct 02 | Science/Nature
30 May 02 | Science/Nature
17 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
11 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
24 Jun 02 | dot life
26 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
Links to more Technology stories are at the foot of the page.


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