More EU data surveillance 'will not counter terrorism'

Efforts to set common European Union rules on data collection by telecommunications companies and ISPs are intensifying,...

Efforts to set common European Union rules on data collection by telecommunications companies and ISPs are intensifying, reigniting debate about civil liberties and causing some industry and political officials to question how such moves would aid efforts to fight terrorism.

Italian MEP Marco Capato has criticised the 15 EU member states for pursuing the ability to do blanket surveillance of all EU citizens' e-mail and phone calls, not only because such methods would erode civil liberties, but also because such moves do not help counter terrorism.

Improving intelligence rather than gathering greater amounts of data on people is more important in the fight against terrorism, Capato argued.

Most EU member states support a common approach to data retention, and many of them are already drafting national laws to this effect.

Denmark, the holder of the six-month rotating presidency, is less supportive of such moves than most other EU nations. However, it is driving an initiative to have individual data retention laws in EU countries, rather than forcing a single EU-wide law.

According to some service providers, which face hefty costs if forced to retain data for surveillance purposes, the Danish presidency is actually moving in the right direction in tackling the issue.

The Danish presidency wants the 15 members to support a text that would set the general tone for all national laws on data retention. The latest draft of this text makes frequent references to respecting the civil liberties of EU citizens and to the European Convention on Human Rights, and it argues that surveillance of someone's e-mail or phone calls should only be carried out with a warrant from a court.

Other countries are not as focused on individual rights. Finland, for example, wants obligatory data retention for a minimum of two years. The UK, France, Italy, Ireland, Luxembourg, Greece, Spain, Portugal and Sweden all favour blanket surveillance, said Capato.

Denmark is less enthusiastic but willing to go along with the trend towards greater surveillance, while Austria and Germany are the only countries that appear reluctant to set data retention laws.

The move to set common EU-wide rules on data retention follows the passing of a controversial EU-wide data protection law earlier this year that opened the door for prolonged data retention.

The data protection law passed in May scraps a clause in a previous code that limited data retention to the one or two months it takes for service providers to process a customer's bill.

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