Telecommunications companies are reviewing how long they should hold onto their billing data because of concerns that they may find themselves in breach of the European Data Protection Directive, if they hold onto it too long.
An EU working party studying the issue has suggested that the information should be retained for 45 days, then erased. This takes account of the directive's rule that personal data should be erased or made anonymous after it has been used - in billing for instance - but can be retained for fraud protection purposes.
If industry follows this suggestion, police officers chasing cold leads may have difficulties in collecting telephone records, often crucial for putting together a case.
The importance of the telecommunications industry to police in an increasingly digital age was spelt out at the Crime 2000 conference by DC Graham Blomfield, of West Mercia Police. "You, the industry, are our informers. Without you, we cannot survive," he said.
Pressure on telecoms managers to erase data will be increased in the UK later this year, when the European Convention of Human Rights becomes the law of the land. Article 8 states, "Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence."
Pat Walshe, law enforcement and liaison manager for MCI World Com International, said the rise of pre-paid mobile phones would also encourage telecoms operators to ditch call data, because it was not needed for billing as this happened automatically.