European Parliament ministers have voted in favour of extending EU guidelines on phone tapping to cover new technologies such as the Internet, despite concern from privacy groups and ISPs.
Following today's vote on the Enfopol 98 proposal, the non binding guidelines will now go before the Council of the EU later this year and if approved will be issued to the governments of member states. But critics say the serious privacy and data protection issues raised by the policy have been brushed over.
The Committee on Legal Affairs and Citizens has argued that the wording of the document is too vague. 'New technologies', the term used in the proposal, could mean a range of things, including bank transactions, Internet shopping, and electronic cash cards, it argues.
"As this area closely impinges on individual freedoms and the protection of privacy it would have been preferable to include an exclusive list of the technologies involved, and be prepared to update it at regular intervals," the Committee said in its response to the document last month.
Internet service providers are also unhappy with the procedure, saying the requirements of national police forces adhering to the guidelines could prove costly for ISPs.
"It boils down to providing a pipeline from the ISP server to the local police station - the cost implications to setting up that kind of surveillance are huge," said a spokeswoman for ISP industry body EuroISPA. "The Internet industry should be asked to give its opinion."
ISPs are anxious not to reach a situation where they are required to log all customer activity - a complex task since many issue dynamic IP addresses - because of the huge cost involved.
They also argue that provisions for new technology go far beyond the provisions in place for intercepting postal mail.
"If you were to survey a customer's Internet traffic, you'd have the opportunity to build a profile of their entire personality," said the EuroISPA spokeswoman.
Privacy advocates are already running "Stop Enfopol" campaigns in Germany to raise public awareness of what they see as a potential threat to citizens' privacy rights. (see earlier story)
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