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Police slammed for 'hysterical' response to EU privacy directive

The National Crime Intelligence Squad has been severely criticised for scaremongering over proposals that would update laws on how Web traffic logs are stored
Written by Wendy McAuliffe, Contributor on

The National Crime Intelligence Squad (NCIS) last week issued what Caspar Bowden, director of the Foundation for Information Policy Research, called a "hysterical" response to the planned European directive on data protection and privacy in the electronic communications sector. He also criticised its claim that the deletion of all traffic logs would seriously hamper police attempts to combat cybercrime as "misleading".

NCIS continued to lobby for a vast expansion in the scope of electronic data retention at a press conference on Thursday. It claimed that current proposals to delete all records of online transactions once a Web session ends would have an adverse affect on the ability of international police forces to detect, investigate and prosecute high-tech crime.

The statement has been severely criticised by policy expert Tony Bunyan for using "scaremongering" tactics. "NCIS is pitching a reverse of the truth by claiming that amendments to this Directive will change the status quo," said Bowden. "The amendment that has been approved by the European Council expands the scope of data retention rather than reduces it," he added.

Under current EU law, personal data can only be retained for 30 days -- the current legal period deemed acceptable for billing purposes. The data then has to be erased or made anonymous as soon as this need is fulfilled. Members of the European Commission are vehemently opposed to NCIS demands for electronic data to be retained for up to seven years, as is the Data Protection Working Party. The new Directive was intended to update current laws on privacy and data protection to include modern means of communication.

"NCIS is trying to pretend that the draft directive is removing a right that they already have, but they don't have this right to access at the moment," said Tony Bunyan, editor of the independent watchdog Statewatch. "They only have the right to look at traffic data on a specific individual if they have a warrant." Proposals by the British government and NCIS to retain electronic communications data for law enforcement purposes have met with fierce criticism for contravening data protection principles, and are likely to breach Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees a person's right to privacy.

"At the moment NCIS is on a collision course with the European Commission and the European Parliament," said Bunyan. "A co-decision is needed -- it is hard to see how a compromise could be reached on this issue."

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