European Union (EU) laws on data protection, data retention and privacy are set to be reviewed to meet the demands of law enforcement agencies - a move which could give agencies access to data traffic logs for a seven-year period.
The Council of the EU has moved to back a call from EU law enforcement agencies for the retention and archiving of the records of phone calls, emails, faxes, and internet traffic.
The call to have such access written into all European Community legislation has been labelled by privacy advocates as "a move that is even more far-reaching than the decision on 17 January 1995 to sign up to the FBI plan for the interception of telecommunications", or the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Act.
Since 1998, European police enforcement group ENFOPOL has been lobbying to extend the powers of agency interception to cover internet and wireless communications. The ENFOPOL proposals will go through the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council at the end of May.
These proposals go much further than the RIP Act, potentially forcing changes in data protection and privacy directives, and going against the views of Data Protection Commissioners in Europe.
But privacy campaign group Statewatch issued a release slamming the proposals. "Authoritarian and totalitarian states would be condemned for violating human rights and civil liberties if they initiated such practices. The fact that it is being proposed in the 'democratic' EU does not make it any less authoritarian or totalitarian," it said.
Statewatch also said that it was refused access to the documents in question by the European Council on the grounds that it could "impede the efficiency of the ongoing deliberations".
Internet think-tank the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) added that "the Government has repeatedly denied supporting these quasi-totalitarian measures".
It referred to a letter from e-minister Patricia Hewitt and Home Office minister Charles Clarke to the Sunday Independent on 28 January, in which they denied that the Government had "plans to introduce legislation mandating the retention of such data" after internet service provider Demon warned that it may relocate should the Act come into power.
Caspar Bowden, director of the FIPR, said: "These proposals would allow fishing expeditions into the online activity, browsing habits and internet associations of every citizen in the EU for up to seven years without any warrant or court order."
He warned that the Government has "been secretly lobbying at European level all along. This is sheer duplicity."
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