Wednesday

8th Dec 2021

EU passes controversial data retention law

  • Telephone records will be stored for at least six months, the new law says (Photo: EUobserver)

EU justice and interior ministers have sealed a landmark data-retention law, forcing telephone operators and internet service providers to store data in the fight against terrorism and organised crime.

The data retention directive was approved by ministers in Brussels on Tuesday (21 February), putting an end to a heated debate in and outside EU institutions for over a year and a half.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The directive aims at tracking down terrorists, paedophiles and criminal gangs, but civil liberties campaigners have argued it damages basic privacy rights and breaches the European Convention on Human Rights.

According to the directive, member states will have to store citizens' phone call data for six to 24 months, but the deal does not stipulate a maximum time period, cooling anger among member states who want longer storage periods.

The data would only detail the caller and receiver's numbers, not the actual conversations themselves, while so-called failed calls - calls that do not get through - will not be covered.

EU countries have 18 months to implement the rules, which already have the backing of the European Parliament.

"This is a wonderful example of how co-operation between the council [member states], the commission and the parliament can work," Austrian justice minister Karin Gastinger, hosting the ministers' meeting, said.

Terror attacks trigerred action

The data retention directive was tabled after the Madrid bombings in March 2004 and then fast-tracked under the British EU presidency after the London underground attacks last July.

Britain, France and Sweden have stressed the need to retain data in order to trace terrorists using modern technology.

Swedish justice minister Thomas Bodstrom said on Tuesday he was satisfied with the deal, arguing that fast-moving changes in the telecom market made it important to force phone companies to comply.

Telephone call records are usually saved for a month for billing purposes, but ever more popular pre-paid subscription contracts have led some companies to ditch paperwork.

"In five years, the police would have been faced with a catastrophy, if this deal had not been clinched today," Mr Bodstrom said.

EU oversteps mark?

Ireland and Slovakia voted against the law, saying they regard national security as a matter for member states not the EU.

"This remains our position and we believe that provision for data retention should be made by way of a framework decision under the third pillar," an Irish official indicated.

The third pillar is a technical term relating to intergovernmental decisions made by unanimity, while so-called first pillar decisions are typically made in conjunction with the European Parliament by qualified majority.

"In the circumstances, and for the legal reason I have indicated, we would merely wish to formally record…the fact that Ireland cannot support the adoption of the proposed directive," he added.

Dublin insisted that Ireland retains its veto in justice matters, and is currently cosulting the Irish attorney general about how to proceed with an appeal to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The ministry of justice in Slovakia said Bratislava agreed with the content of the directive but also objected to placing it under the first pillar.

US could access EU data retention information

US authorities can get access to EU citizens' data on phone calls, sms' and emails, giving a recent EU data-retention law much wider-reaching consequences than first expected, reports Swedish daily Sydsvenskan.

Frontex chief: 'about time' MEPs probe his agency

Some 14 MEPs have created a group to probe allegations of rights abuse by the EU's border agency Frontex. Its head, Fabrice Leggeri, welcomed its creation and said it "is about time".

Romania denies forcing migrant-boat back to Turkish waters

Romania's ministry of internal affairs wrote to Frontex claiming it did not engage in any illegal pushbacks of people on rubber boats into Turkish territorial waters. The country says it followed EU engagement rules and Greek orders.

LGBTI fears over new Polish member at EU institution

A letter sent to the European Economic and Social Committee by a group of cross-party MEPs fighting for LGBTi rights expresses fears that a recently-appointed Polish member may try to undermine those rights.

EU condemns Slovenian PM's harassment of journalist

Slovenia's populist prime minister Janez Janša attempted to discredit a Brussels reporter after she published a critical article about the state of media freedoms in the country. The European Commission condemned the PM's language - but refrained from naming him.

News in Brief

  1. EU agrees to sanction Russian mercenaries
  2. Germany asks Iran for realistic nuclear proposals
  3. US to send troops to Europe if Russia invades Ukraine
  4. Will EU follow US on China Olympics boycott?
  5. EU flight passengers dropped 73% in 2020
  6. EU 'biggest vaccine-donor in world', von der Leyen announces
  7. Majority of EU citizens worried about internet's impact
  8. Redesigned euro banknotes coming from 2024

Feature

Covid-hit homeless find Xmas relief at Brussels food centre

The Kamiano food distribution centre in Brussels is expecting 20 people every half hour on Christmas Day. For many, Kamiano is also more than that - a support system for those made homeless or impoverished.

Top court finds Hungary and Poland broke EU rules

EU tribunal said Hungary's legislation made it "virtually impossible" to make an asylum application. Restricting access to international protection procedure is a violation of EU rules.

Latest News

  1. Denmark and Hungary oppose EU rules on minimum wages
  2. Slovenian corruption estimated at 13.5% of GDP
  3. Lithuania seeks EU protection from Chinese bullying
  4. Using Istanbul Convention to stop online abuse of women
  5. EU spends record €198bn on defence in 2020
  6. EU Parliament demands justice after 'anti-vax' attack on MEP
  7. Kaczyński and Le Pen make friends at anti-EU 'summit'
  8. Croat police kept handwritten logbook of likely pushbacks

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us