Leaked EU memo highlights concerns over data retention law

Digital rights groups say the memo reveals a hidden agenda

Digital rights groups in Europe have called for a ban on blanket data retention after a leaked internal memo from the European Commission admitted that there are significant problems with the current E.U. Data Retention Directive.

The German Working Group on Data Retention (AK Vorrat) published the leaked memo, which lists various issues that the Commission believes must be addressed in the 2006 law. It says that because the law is implemented in different ways in different member states, it disrupts the single market.

This is particularly insidious, said AK Vorrat, as the directive was not adopted as a law enforcement tool, but as an instrument of market harmonization. "The Commission has failed to prove the necessity of the data retention directive," said Frank Herrmann of AK Vorrat. "Instead the Commission is asking the E.U. member states for arbitrary examples of benefits of data retention. This obliterates any trust in the impartiality of the Commission."

Indeed, the memo says that the benefits of data retention are difficult to quantify as there is currently no account kept of whether data accessed under the Data Retention Directive would have already been available to authorities, or how many successful cases it was used in. Another problem is that there is no Europe-wide definition of a "serious crime" causing many digital rights groups, including EDRi, to worry about the possibility of mission creep.

However, while the Commission admits that "there is a continued perception that there is little evidence at an E.U. and national level of the value of data retention," it nonetheless presses forward to find ways of "demonstrating the value of data retention."

The Commission is due to present its proposals for the reform of the directive by July 2012.

Meanwhile, the Irish High Court has asked the European Court of Justice to rule on whether the Data Retention Directive respects the rights of the user. The request stems from a case brought by Digital Rights Ireland against the Minister for Communications. Digital Rights Ireland argues that forcing telecoms companies to retain information about how customers use their services breaches individual rights to privacy.

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