The British Government is pushing the European Commission to order telephone and data service companies to record details of telephone numbers dialled, e-mail recipients and Web sites visited. The information, it said, is vital in the fight against terrorism and crime.
Yet data protection commissioners from around Europe, meeting in Cardiff last week, said they had "grave doubt as to the legitimacy and legality of such broad measures".
The commissioners warned of the "the excessive costs that would be involved for the telecommunication and Internet industry," and the absence of such measures in the United States.
"The European Data Protection Commissioners have repeatedly emphasised that such retention would be an improper invasion of the fundamental rights guaranteed to individuals by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights", the statement continued.
The commissioners reiterated their position that when traffic data is retained there must be a clear need and that the period of retention must be as short as possible
Ian Brown, director of The Foundation for Information Policy Research, said forcing phone and Internet companies to retain this data for all of their customers is a huge threat to privacy. This should not only be a debate about policing, but the dangers posed by having this treasure trove of information available for others to access, legitimately or otherwise."
Currently retention of data by UK ISPs is still done on a voluntary basis and the Government has promised a "lengthy consultation period with industry", before it is made mandatory.