The following new story was carried in the Guardian newspaper. It is interesting that "diplomats in Brussels" (a euphemism for EU government spokespersons) are not denying that a report on the table wants to place all telecommunications under surveillance - they are simply saying it is not ready for adoption yet.

Alarm at European data surveillance plan
The Guardian - United Kingdom; 18 May 2001

by Ian Black in Brussels

European Union governments are trying to relax stringent data protection rules to guarantee the police and law enforcement agencies access to private phone calls and emails, it emerged yesterday.

In a move that has alarmed civil liberties groups, the EU's 15 member states are urging the European commission to require that phone, fax, email and internet data be kept for an undefined period in case they are needed for criminal investigations.

Diplomats in Brussels said the intention was to 'strike a balance' between the citizen's right to privacy and the need to catch cybercriminals and purveyors of pornography and racial hatred using the internet or other electronic means.

Britain is strongly backing the move, which it insists is necessary to allow police and the security services to trace information. The Department of  Trade and Industry, the Home Office and the Cabinet Office - which represents MI5 and MI6 - have all been involved.

Governments are trying to persuade the commission to incorporate their views in a new EU directive on data processing and protection of privacy in electronic communications.

Enforcement agencies have expressed 'serious apprehensions' about the directive in its current form, according to a document leaked to the London-based organisation Statewatch.

'Some member states are concerned that if the directive is as prepared by the commission, it might hinder pre-trial investigations involving the interception of phones and email,' one official said last night.

According to the commission proposals, electronic data should be deleted or rendered anonymous by the network or internet service provider as soon as the billing process has been completed.

'It's crucial that we ensure the greatest degree of privacy for personal data to encourage full confidence in the use of the net,' a commission official said.

But governments want the information to be retained for longer - though there was no official confirmation last night of a claim that a seven-year period was being sought.

Companies have also raised objections on the grounds of the cost of data storage.

Statewatch warned of a violation of human rights and civil liberties in the name of surveillance. 'The fact that it is being proposed in the 'democratic' EU does not make it any less authoritarian or totalitarian,' said the group's director, Tony Bunyan.

Calls on the commission to reflect the concerns of police have been dropped from the agenda of a ministerial meeting later this month because of what officials said was a procedural error by Sweden, current holder of the
union's rotating presidency.

But the controversy is cer tain to rumble on. Mr Bunyan, a veteran campaigner for freedom of information in the European Union, said his request for access to the relevant documents from the council of ministers -
where the 15 governments cooperate - had been refused on the grounds that disclosure 'could impede the efficiency of ongoing deliberations'.

If governments got their way, he added, 'all the protections for personal freedom and privacy put in place through international data protection rules and privacy directives would be fatally undermined at a stroke'.



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