Entertainment industry 'trying to hijack data retention directive'

In a move a digital rights group is calling 'a gross affront to civil liberties and human rights', media firms want to amend the proposed data retention directive so they can bring criminal prosecutions for copyright violation

Cyber-rights groups have accused the entertainment industry of attempting to hijack the European Union's data retention legislation.

The European Union is considering whether to force telecoms operators and Internet service providers to retain customer data for up to a year. On Wednesday afternoon, a parliamentary committee approved these plans, which will now be voted on by the EU Council.

Several governments, including the UK, want these powers brought in ostensibly to aid investigations into terrorism.

But the Creative and Media Business Alliance (CMBA), a group of media companies including EMI, SonyBMG and TimeWarner, has lobbied the EU to allow this data to be used to investigate all crimes, not just serious offences such as terrorism.

Opponents have claimed that if this demand was granted, then — combined with the upcoming IPRED2 legislation which could create Europe-wide criminal offences for intellectual property infringement — the entertainment industry would be able to pursue prosecutions against suspected copyright-infringers through the criminal court entirely at the cost of the taxpayer.

CMBA sent a letter to Members of the European Parliament this week claiming that it was wrong to restrict any new data retention powers to merely "the prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of serious criminal offences such as terrorism and organised crime".

"This Directive is of major importance for our sector and we would appreciate your support in ensuring that this becomes an effective instrument in the fight against piracy," wrote the CMBA.

A spokeswoman for IPFI, the industry body who represents the worldwide recording industry and is a member of the CMBA, claimed the group only wanted to protect its industry and was not concerned with terrorism. "We will leave the European Parliament to deal with terrorism. Our only concern is copyright," she told ZDNet UK.

The Open Rights Group, a UK digital rights organisation, has been angered by CMBA's tactics.

"The data retention directive was proposed to fight terrorism. As ill-conceived as the original legislation was, this should never be used to fight the music and film industries' battles at the expense of the taxpayer," Suw Charman, executive director of the Open Rights Group.

"The music industry's attempt to hijack this legislation is a travesty and a gross affront to civil liberties and human rights," Charman added.

At Wednesday's vote, the parliamentary committee did not extend the range of the proposed directive as the CMBA asked, but the group is still optimistic that the Council will take this decision when it votes on the directive.

"This is just one committee so does not mean anything. We haven't won yet," said the spokeswoman for the IFPI.

If the legislation is passed it is likely to put a substantial financial burden on telecoms operators and ISPs. This would be passed on to the consumer either in the form of raised bills or through government subsidies funded by the taxpayer, Charman claimed.