EU-wide surveillance a possibility soon

20.08.02 @ 09:03

  1. By Marcin Frydrych

Records of personal communications, including all emails and telephone calls, will be stored for at least a year according to a proposal the EU governments are to decide on next month.

Under the plan, all telecommunications firms, including mobile phone operators and internet service providers, will have to keep the numbers and addresses of calls and emails sent and received by EU citizens. The information, known as traffic data, would be held in central computer systems and made available to all EU governments, the Guardian reports.

Statewatch warning

Some groups fear the move could lead to a further extension of the powers of European security and intelligence agencies.

"The traffic data of the whole population of the EU - and the countries joining - is to be held on record. It is a move from targeted to potentially universal surveillance," editor of Statewatch, Tony Bunyan warns. "EU governments claimed that changes to the 1997 privacy directive would not be binding on member states - each national parliament would have to decide. Now we know that all along they were intending to make it compulsory across Europe," Bunyan said, according to the British newspaper.

Blanket surveillance of the entire EU population

Civil liberties groups worry it would also lead to an establishment of special agencies to deal with data, blanket surveillance of the entire EU population and possible accusations addressed against innocent citizens.

Although the move was initially explained by the need to fight terrorism, EU officials now argue it is necessary to fight all serious crime, including paedophilia and racism. A "draft framework decision" for the European council states that it is essential for all member states to apply the same rules. It said that the purpose was to harmonise the retention of traffic data to allow criminal investigation.

According to "the Guardian", the decision is a victory for the United Kingdom that encouraged by Washington, has been pushing for a compulsory EU-wide data retention regime.

Minimum list of offences

For law enforcement agencies to access the data, the draft EU decision gives a minimum list of offences, including "participation in a criminal organisation, terrorism, trafficking in human beings, sexual exploitation of children", drug trafficking, money-laundering, fraud, racism, hijacking and "motor vehicle crime".

The collected data would include information identifying the source, destination, and time of a communication, as well as the personal details of the subscriber to any "communication device". However, individuals have no right to check whether the information held concerning their personal communication is accurate nor to legally challenge decisions about its use by EU authorities.

A member state will not be able to refuse a request for information from another member state on human rights or privacy grounds. There is also no common EU list of crimes covered by the plan or of public agencies which could demand the information.

But there is one element in the EU plan that the UK will not welcome: It says that personal data could be handed to security services and law enforcement authorities only with judicial approval, the Guardian writes.

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