August 20, 2002 5:34 AM PDT

Group warns of massive EU surveillance

Privacy advocates claim that the European Union plans to make sweeping changes to laws that govern communications-related data retention and privacy, requiring the long-term storage of such information and making it available to governments.

Statewatch, a U.K.-based Internet organization that monitors threats to civil liberties within Europe, said Monday that European governments are planning to force all of the continent's telephone carriers, mobile network operators and Internet service providers to store details of their customers' Web use, e-mails and phone calls for up to two years.

This data would be made available to governments and law enforcement agencies.

The European Parliament is currently debating changes to the 1997 EU Directive on privacy in telecommunications, which governs existing laws on communications data retention. This directive states that traffic data can only be retained for billing purposes and must then be deleted.

European governments were expected to agree to changes to the 1997 directive that would allow individual countries to bring in laws forcing communications companies to retain data.

Statewatch, though, said it has seen a copy of a binding "framework decision" that is currently being worked on by some EU governments. The framework decision, which could be voted into law next month, would force all governments to pass laws that would compel communications companies to retain all traffic data for 12 months to 24 months.

As previously reported, it has been rumoured for some time that EU governments were secretly working on such changes.

"EU governments claimed that changes to the 1997 EC Directive on privacy in telecommunications to allow for data retention and access by the law enforcement agencies 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 binding, compulsory across Europe," Tony Bunyan, editor of Statewatch, said in a statement.

Bunyan added that the draft framework decision would sweep away the basic rights of data protection, scrutiny by supervisory bodies and judicial review.

The framework decision may include the provision that the police would need to obtain a judicial order before gaining access to traffic data, but Statewatch warns that such conditions have been sidestepped before.

ZDNet UK's Graeme Wearden reported from London.

 

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