Bush lobbies EU to drop traffic data retention ban

The US president is adding his support to British demands for data retention for criminal investigation purposes

President Bush is calling for a change to the proposed EU directive on privacy and communications, to allow for the blanket retention of all traffic data for criminal investigations.

The US President has added his voice to those of the British government and EU law enforcement agencies, who have been demanding powers to intercept electronic communications for terrorist and criminal investigations. In a letter to the Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, who currently holds the presidency of the EU, Bush spoke of US opposition to the current EU data law that prohibits the retention of personal data beyond the legal period deemed acceptable for billing purposes.

"This isn't just Bush coming in cold -- this is the US putting its weight behind existing demands for data to be retained," said Tony Bunyan, editor of Statewatch.

The European Parliament (EP) Civil Liberties Committee approved a report by the radical MEP Marco Cappato in July in favour of strict regulation of law enforcement authorities' access to personal data collected by telecoms companies and ISPs. Such data contains information on what phone calls and fax calls people have made, what Web sites they have visited and the emails they have sent.

As the Cappato report stands, EU countries should restrict police powers to intercept communication traffic data and location data in normal circumstances. It also rejects proposals contained within the draft EU telecommunications directive to retain traffic data for up to seven years, and states that information should not be stored for longer than is necessary for the transmission of data and for traffic management purposes.

But in a report presented by the European Council's Legal Service on 12 October, it was decided that EU governments already have the necessary powers to intercept telecommunications to combat terrorism. It was, however, concluded that these powers could not be extended for criminal investigations.

"Bush is not just calling for a terrorist power, but a more general power," said Bunyan.

The Home Office admitted one week ago that it plans to reserve extra powers to force ISPs to retain data about customers if its current "voluntary code of practice" proves inadequate to deal with terrorists. New legislation is expected to hit the statute books in November to deal with the terrorist threat.

Statewatch has completed two analyses of the new measures affecting civil liberties that have been proposed by the EU since the 11 September. It concludes that of the 11 legislative proposals being rushed through the EU at the moment, six were proposed before 11 September and another four were already on the agenda. The EU's anti-terrorism programme following the bombings on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon only amounts to one new proposal, which aims to examine immigration and asylum legislation in light of the terrorist threat.

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