- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

PARIS — Europeans are no strangers to eavesdropping: East Germans endured the all-pervasive Stasi secret police, a French president had a penchant for wiretaps, and Britain had “Camillagate” — with Prince Charles taped making a steamy call to his lover.

Little wonder, then, that many Europeans barely shrug at news that the Bush administration has collected telephone records on millions of Americans.

Although analysts and officials say Europe does not collect telephone data centrally on a massive scale, government surveillance has been increasing since the September 11 attacks. Some say European nations could further boost surveillance if terrorism becomes an even bigger threat.

“If we had a September 11 every year, then citizens, regardless of the country, would doubtless be ready to abdicate a good portion of their rights in this area,” said French lawmaker Alain Marsaud, a former counterterror investigator.

Mr. Marsaud, other analysts and officials at the European Union said they were not aware of a European equivalent of the secret telephone database put together by the National Security Agency. The program was reported last week to have records of all calls made by customers of AT&T;, Verizon and BellSouth since shortly after September 11, 2001. BellSouth has denied the report.

“German legislation does not allow for this,” said Andreas Middel of Germany’s Deutsche Telekom, Europe’s largest phone operator.

Although the company does — with a court order — turn over to law-enforcement agencies data such as numbers called and the length of calls, it does not provide billing information for more general purposes, he said.

Jan Sjoberg of TeliaSonera, the Nordic region’s largest telecommunications operator, said, “There is nothing today that indicates that this kind of thing is going on, either in Sweden or elsewhere in Europe.”

The pendulum swung toward more extensive electronic surveillance in Europe after deadly transit bombings in Madrid and London.

EU governments and the European Parliament this year approved legislation requiring telecommunications companies to retain phone data and Web logs for a minimum of six months for potential use in terrorism and serious crime investigations.

The Dutch secret service has gained vast powers. In 2004, the government passed measures that lowered the threshold for bugging and surveillance. Dutch public attitudes reached a turning point with the 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist.

France also has expanded the allowable use of video-surveillance and phone and Internet data, despite previous wiretapping abuses. President Francois Mitterrand eavesdropped in the 1980s on lawyers, politicians, journalists and celebrities.

In Italy, a Justice Ministry report said the number of authorized wiretaps more than tripled from 32,000 in 2001 to 106,000 last year. Italian phone companies are obliged to keep phone records for at least five years and Internet records for at least one year.

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