Amendments to proposed directive on data retention

Sent the following e-mail to MEPs:

Dear …,

I welcome the amendments tabled by some of your colleagues in regard to the proposed directive on data retention (COM(2005)0438), with the aim of limiting its harmful effects on society. In fact, nearly all amendments (LIBE_PR(2005)364679, LIBE_AM(2005)364849, ITRE_PA(2005)364724, ITRE_AM(2005)364725) are aimed at restricting the scope of the proposed directive, arguing that there is no proof that a wider scope would be of substantial use, and arguing that a wider scope would be disproportionate.

However, it needs to be pointed out that these arguments apply to the entire project of mass data retention. There is no proof that mass data retention is of substantial use in fighting serious crime, beyond what traffic data is already available at present. Mass data retention is also clearly disproportionate, considering that 99% of those who would be affected by it are entirely innocent.

For the following reasons, the proposed directive should be rejected, rather than just limited in scope:

  • Once mass data retention has been implemented, its scope is bound to be continuously expanded over time. The proposed evaluation clause is of little value, as all practical experience shows that police powers are never abandoned once they have been introduced. The supposed benefit of mass data retention needs to be empirically examined and proven before implementing data retention.
  • The aftermaths of 9/11, of the Madrid bombings and of the terrorist attacks in London have shown that there is no need for a directive on data retention. Investigations could be conducted successfully without mandatory data retention in the US, Spain and the UK. Only two of the 25 EU member states (Ireland and Italy) have actually implemented mandatory mass data retention at present. There is no evidence that data retention is having any impact on crime levels in those states whatsoever.
  • Data retention is easy for criminals to circumvent, for example by using mobile phone cards that have been registered in the name of another person. Likewise, pay-as-you-go phones, Internet cafés or offshore e-mail accounts can be used to escape detection.
  • The President of the European Confederation of Police, Heinz Kiefer, announced in 2005 that „he is sceptical as to whether [data retention] will actually help criminal investigations. […] [I]t remains easy for criminals to avoid detection through fairly simple means, for example mobile phone cards can be purchased from foreign providers and frequently switched. ‚The result would be that a vast effort is made with little more effect on criminals and terrorists than to slightly irritate them‘“ (source).
  • Mass data retention would have a chilling effect on confidential political, professional and business communications and contacts (and thus the activities of political activists, of lawyers, of journalists, of businessmen engaged in confidential negotiations, etc.). It would also cost millions of euros, withdrawing taxpayer’s money from targeted security projects with an actual impact on crime.
  • Even with a narrow scope and strict safeguards, the proposed directive would create a precedent for the mass collection of information on all citizens on the off chance that the data may come useful at some point in the future. Following that reasoning, why not introduce George Orwell’s telescreens (video cameras) in every home, provided that access to the recordings is only granted in exceptional circumstances? Do we really want to live in a society where all our actions are recorded, all of our interactions are mapped; just in case that the information may be of use at some point in the future?

I hope that MEPs will not let themselves be pressured by the Council’s threat to go ahead with its own data retention project. There is no real risk of that happening because several member states are opposed to passing a framework decision (see here), and an unanimous vote in the Council would be required.

For the reasons set out above, I urge you to reject the proposed directive on data retention altogether and instead speak out for the implementation of international mechanisms for the targeted preservation of data relating to specific suspects. Only targeted and international mechanisms actually promise to be effective in fighting globalised crime and terrorism.

Yours sincerely,

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