Friday, October 15, 2004

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union governments are pushing through contentious new plans to retain data from telephone calls and e-mails for a minimum period of 12 months as part of new anti-terrorist and cyber crime proposals.

The plan would not include the recording of actual calls — only at what times calls or e-mails were sent and to whom.

A draft proposal for new data retention rules, obtained by the Associated Press yesterday, calls for EU-wide standards on which data can be accessed by authorities in criminal and anti-terror investigations.

The proposal, an update of one first submitted in April by Britain, France, Sweden and Ireland, aims to harmonize existing rules and standardize access to such data for all EU governments.

EU leaders made the proposal one of their key anti-terror priorities at a summit following the March 11 rail bombings in Madrid and set a June 2005 deadline to have a new law on the books.

In a move that has angered privacy advocates and industry, the draft calls for telecommunications providers to retain their records for at least 12 months in case police investigators need to check them.

The draft acknowledges it “may constitute an interference in the private life of the individual,” but says the regulation, if approved, would not violate privacy rules.

A report backed by some 90 privacy advocate groups and 80 companies said collecting such data was “an invasive act.” The groups say the proposal would violate European human rights conventions.

Industry groups, meanwhile, fear they will have to foot the bill for keeping the data, and that not enough consultation is being done.

The proposal still needs to be studied by the European Parliament, which has become a strong advocate of privacy rights. While the EU assembly cannot block the plan, it can create a political headache for EU governments trying to rush it through.

“They will need to test very firmly the claim of law-enforcement authorities that the world will end if they cannot keep this retention,” said British Liberal Democrat member Sarah Ludford.

The Netherlands, which currently holds the EU presidency, presented a reworked proposal Thursday, cutting the retention period from three years to 12 months.

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