EU warns of 'clash' over UK Web monitoring bill

A second alarm bell has run in the E.U. over the U.K.'s plans to give near real-time access to Web traffic data. But it's looking increasingly likely that the plans will fall in line with the E.U.'s demands.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

The E.U. Justice Commissioner has warned that a "balancing act" is required to prevent a "clash" with Europe over the U.K.'s draft "snoopers' charter".


Speaking to The Register at a data protection conference on Monday in Luxembourg, Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said the rights of the citizen and society must be preserved:

"You always have to weigh the rights to obligations of the state: one is to preserve the rights of the individual and the other one is to preserve the rights of the society. This is a balancing act; you cannot make them clash."

The Commissioner's spokesperson confirmed the quote was "accurate".

The announced plans would allow the intelligence community --- including domestic service MI5, foreign service MI6, and electronic eavesdropping agency GCHQ --- along with police, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, and the U.K.'s tax authority, access data relating to Web, email and phone traffic.

This so-called "communications data" includes IP addresses and phone numbers of senders and recipients of emails and calls, website addresses, times and dates of communications, and so on.

However, the data contained within --- such as the contents of emails and phone call conversations --- will continue to be stored for 12 months under the bill, but will require a court order or a search warrant signed by the Home Secretary before it can be accessed.

It's not the first time Europe has sounded alarm bells over the draft law, dubbed the Communications Data Bill.

Shortly before HM the Queen announced the bill in her annual speech to the U.K. Parliament, the European Commission warned that the U.K. government's plans to allow the British intelligence services to access Web traffic data in near real-time "would potentially be incompatible" with upcoming European law.

European officials warned that adequate safeguards would have to be included in the draft law to ensure the 'snooping' was limited in scope to prevent widespread abuse of the system.

During the Queen's speech, however, those safeguards were guaranteed with the bill "subject to scrutiny of draft clauses," signaling efforts to comply with E.U. demands.

The new E.U. law, on track to be out by 2014--2015, is a one-size-fits-all approach for all 27 European member states to enable governments to read from the same page. The current Directive in force allows space for interpretation into member states' legal systems, a move that led to conflicts and confusion across borders.

The chances are, however, is that this bill --- while still subject to change --- will fall in line with both current E.U laws on data protection and data retention, as well as the forthcoming new data and privacy laws.

Whether or not the bill makes it through Parliament is another matter entirely.

Image credit: GCHQ via CNET.


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