Clarke gets EC backing over data retention

Plans from the Home Office to force communications firms to retain details of emails, phone calls and the like for up to three years have been backed by the EC

The European Commission has thrown its support behind Home Secretary Charles Clarke's data retention plans, calling for telecoms companies and ISPs to store details of all phone calls, text messages, faxes and email communications but not their content. Such a move, says Clarke, is vital in the fight against terrorism.

The proposal was approved by the EC's president, José Manuel Barroso, at a meeting of EU ministers.

Barroso said: "It is obvious that data retention is a crucial instrument in the fight against terrorism: terrorists need to communicate between themselves and by doing so leave traces."

He added the EC will try to take privacy concerns over the controversial proposals into account: "It is also obvious that data retention raises privacy concerns, and that it has a cost for the industry."

"It is our aim to provide constructive input to ensure that progress achieved so far in the field of data retention will result in a proportionate instrument, based on solid legal grounds."

The directive is scheduled to be accepted by the EC in September, Barroso said. It's likely to force European ISPs, mobile operators and other telecoms firms to store details on emails, phone calls and text messages for between 12 months and three years.

The costs of retaining the telecommunications and email data in the UK will be borne by the service providers, who already have to store such details for 12 months under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and an industry code of practice agreed in 2003.

ISPs and telecoms operators have, however, said they will abide by any change in communications data retention law.

Mobile operator Orange, which already holds data on contract calls for two years and pay-as-you-go for six months, will be working with the Home Office to understand its requirements, a spokeswoman said. A Vodafone representative said the operator will also be keen to "engage in dialogues" on the subject.