The benefits of retaining communications data have been called into question following the release of German police statistics that show internet crime detection fell but the number of internet crimes solved rose after data retention was discontinued.
The statistics come from North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Germany's most populous state. Germany stopped keeping communications data after a Supreme Court ruling in March 2010.
The statistics showed that, in 2010, mainly after data retention ended, 11.8% fewer cases of internet-related crimes were registered by NRW police than during the previous year. Recorded internet crime figures showed a steady decline from 60,591 in 2006 to 48,411 last year.
"This drop cannot be due to the end of data retention, since communications data can be accessed and used only after a crime has been reported," said the German Working Group on Data Retention (AK Vorrat), a lobby group that campaigned against blanket data retention.
It said the statistics refuted the belief the internet was "a lawless space" if everyone's communications data went uncollected.
"Even without blanket data retention, NRW police cleared nearly two out of three internet offences (64.4%) in 2010. Internet crime was actually cleared more successfully than offline crime (49.4%). Child pornography on the internet was also cleared more often (60.8%) than the average criminal offence," AK Vorrat said.
In the UK, internet service providers (ISPs) have to collect and store all communications data - the source and location of the caller and receiver - for 12 months. The government is also believed to be thinking of re-instating the stalled £12bn Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP).
Only 2.5% of internet crime in NRW related to child pornography, while 80.7% concerned fraud. Illegal pornography distributed via the internet was less than 0.1% of all recorded crime, it said. Street crime comprised 28% of all crime detected in NRW, and violent crime amounted to 4%. Some 96.6% of all crime detected in NRW in 2010 was committed offline.
AK Vorrat member Florian Altherr said 99.6% of internet users were never suspected of any wrong-doing. This made the retention of data on 49 million Germans because of "parliamentary constraints" non-negotiable.
Patrick Breyer, also from AK Vorrat, said a decline in the clearance rate of internet crime compared to 2009 followed a long term trend. "It is quite normal that in the long run, internet crime will not be cleared any more often than other kinds of crime," he said.