Privacy International (PI) has written an open letter to the European Parliament warning adoption of a proposed directive on data retention would "cause an irreversible shift in civil liberties within the European Union."
And the letter warns the Directive of the European Parliament and the Council on the Retention of Data Processed in Connection with the Provision of Public Electronic Communication Services and Amending Directive 2002/58/EC would also hurt European's consumer rights and pose "an unprecedented obstacle to the global competitiveness of European industry".
It follows an earlier warning, made on behalf of NGO European Digital Rights (a coalition of 17 digital civil rights organizations from 11 European countries); Privacy International, and European civil liberties group Statewatch in July that the policy of communications data retention significantly expands powers of surveillance and simultaneously revokes many of safeguards in European human rights instruments, such as the Data Protection Directives and the European Convention on Human Rights.
The groups reiterated its statement to the European Commission in September 2004, which was endorsed by 200 organizations from the private sector and civil society, that:
- Data retention is an invasive tool that interferes with the private lives of everyone in Europe - Retaining personal data on everyone is an illegal practice in terms of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights as it is disproportionate - Security gained from retention may be illusory, as it is likely that traffic data that is associated to one individual may actually be linked to activity taken by another, or by a process that is unrelated to the activities of that user. - The means through which this policy is being pursued is illegitimate, as some member states who have failed to pass this policy through their own Parliaments are now trying to push it through the EU instead in the name of harmonization and international cooperation.
"Such a regime is likely to have costly repercussions on the delivery of telecommunications products and services within Europe," the groups say. "This will not only place European industry at a disadvantage, it will also likely lead to increased costs for consumers, and reduced growth in a sector that is essential to the advancement of the European economy and society."
The privacy groups accuse proponents of retention policy- in the face of strong opposition - of sweeping such concerns aside as they harmonize measures to increase surveillance without simultaneously harmonizing safeguards against abuse.
And they claim the Council is demanding that the European Parliament approve a regime parliaments in the Member States have already rejected. It points out the UK Presidency is proposing a policy that has already failed in the UK Parliament.
"The Council is trying to make the Parliament complicit in this act of policy laundering," it says.
"As the EU embarks on this unprecedented policy, we are facing a momentous decision as to whether we wish to set in motion a chain of events that will lead to a surveillance society.
"Once a surveillance regime begins it always expands. As the European Data Protection Supervisor has stated in his opinion, the mere existence of data might lead to increased demands for access and use by industry, law enforcement authorities, and intelligence services. Already, restrictions agreed on in the Committee for Civil Liberties were pushed aside in secret negotiations with the Council," the open letter says.
It accuses the EU, which led the world in establishing a data privacy regime to limit the collection, processing, retention, and accessing of this information, of demanding that the European Parliament reverse its position and leading the world in introducing mass surveillance of individual activities.
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