German crime stats deal blow to EU's data retention laws

Independent watchdog and civil liberties groups say the data retention directive is not proportionate

The latest statistics published by German police show that telecommunications data retention has had no positive impact on the number of cases solved.

Germany ceased the blanket collection of data last year after a court ruled that the European Union Data Retention Directive was unconstitutional. Despite this, the trend of decline in registered crime continued, prompting civil liberties groups to call for the directive to be scrapped across the E.U.

Blanket telecommunications data retention had no statistically relevant effect on crime clearance trends either. The news comes as the European Data Protection Supervisor, an independent watchdog, called the directive unnecessary and disproportionate.

The EDPS, Peter Hustinx, has frequently expressed his concerns related to the necessity of retaining data on such a large scale and has recently drawn the conclusion that the Data Retention Directive does not meet the requirements set out by the rights to privacy and data protection, primarily because the necessity for data retention has not been sufficiently demonstrated.

Even after data retention ended in Germany, national police still achieved a clearance rate of nearly three out of four Internet offenses (71 percent) in 2010 according to the German Working Group on Data Retention, which heavily criticized the laws that affect all 500 million E.U. citizens, "98 percent of whom are never suspected of any wrongdoing."

"In light of these new crime statistics, the irresponsible campaign of fear and continued scaremongering by some politicians after the annulment of the German data retention law finds no justification in reality," said Michael Ebeling of the German Working Group on Data Retention. "The truth is that with targeted investigations of suspects we live just as safely as we would with a policy of indiscriminate retention of all communications data. The endless exaggeration and emotionally charged descriptions of isolated cases combined with a massive media campaign is both misleading and unethical. In my view this is nothing less than a populist defence of the most privacy invasive and unpopular surveillance measure ever adopted by the E.U."

The Commission is currently preparing a proposal to revise the Data Retention Directive, but is unwilling to drop the policy altogether.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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