The vote in the European Parliament to accept data retention and surveillance by the law enforcement agencies: an analysis


To Europeans, and people outside the EU, it is important to explain the vote on data retention in the European Parliament - and the make-up of the European Parliament.

The political make-up of the European Parliament and national governments in the EU

The largest party in the European Parliament is the PPE ("European Peoples' Party/Christian Democrat", 233 MEPs, conservative, right wing) backed by 7 right to extreme right wing governments (Italy, Austria, Portugal, France, Denmark, Netherlands and Spain). The second largest party is the PSE (179 MEPs), officially called the "Socialist group", in practice centre to centre-right, with 6 governments of the same complexion (UK, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Greece). This group will probably rename itself "Social democrat" in the near future. Ireland and Luxembourg do not officially fit into either category but their governments are effectively on the right.

There are a total of 626 MEPs. The other political groups are: ELDR (53 MEPs, Liberal), Green/EFA (45 MEPs), GUE (44 MEPs, United Left), UEN (22 MEPs, "Europe of Nations"), EDD (18 MEPs, "Europe of democracies and diversities"), TDI (18 MEPs "Technical" group including Le Pen) and NI (14 MEPs, non-attached).

At the last European Parliament elections in 1999 the PSE were replaced by the PPE as the largest party. When the PPE and the PSE vote together they command 412 MEPs out of 626.

The vote on data retention on 30 May 2002

In November 2001 the plenary session of the European Parliament adopted a 1st reading report strongly opposing data retention and surveillance. When the Committee on Citizens' Freedoms and Rights re-considered its 2nd reading position - in the face of the continued demands from the Council for data retention - the PPE group, led by Ana Palacio Spain), the chair of the Committee, broke ranks and voted against the previously agreed position (the vote was: 25 to 19, with the PSE still backing the 1st reading position). Ana Palacio then entered informal talks with the current Spanish Presidency of the Council of the European Union to agree a position that accepted the Council's demands.

Two relevant votes took place on the issue of data retention and surveillance on 30 May. In the first the PPE/PSE alliance voted to reject the principled stand taken by the parliament on the 1st reading in November 2001 and as recently as the vote in the Committee on Citizens' Freedoms and Rights on 18 April this year - 340 votes to 150.

This meant that the PPE/PSE majority in the parliament voted against the maintenance of the provision under the existing 1997 EU Directive on privacy in telecommunications which says that data can only be retained for billing purposes and must then be erased - it also allows for the interception of telecommunications but on a limited, specific, authorised and controlled basis (ie: a warrant or judicial order has to be obtained).

The PPE/PSE majority then voted in favour of an amendment - already agreed with the Council of the European Union (the 15 EU governments) - allowing national governments to introduce legislation requiring telecommunications network and service providers to retain data (traffic and location) and for law enforcement agencies to have access to this data. The effect is to end "privacy in telecommunications". The vote on this amendment was 351 for and 133 against (ELDR, Green/EFA, GUE and others) with 13 abstentions (see below for how each MEP voted by group.

Only two PSE (Socialist group) MEPs voted against: Anne Van Lancker (Belgium) and Jose Maria Mendiluce Pereiro (Spain).

Five other PSE MEPs abstained: Dehousse (Belgium), McCarthy (UK/Northern Ireland), Mann Erika (Germany), Napolitano (Italy), Pittella (Italy).

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:

"The unholy alliance of the PPE and the PSE groups in the European Parliament have demonstrated that they back the demands of the governments (and law enforcement agencies) in t

 

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