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E.U. Surveillance of Telecommunications

Aine Fox • Other View Summer 2002

The E.U. have accepted an amendment to a directive on accepting data retention and surveillance by the law enforcement agencies. The 1997 E.U. Directive on privacy in telecommunications states that data can be retained by billing purposes and then must be erased. It does however facilitate the interception of communications on a controlled level where specific authorization in the form of a court order (other means such as secretary of state approval) had been obtained.

It has been reported by State Watch website that on May 30th 2002 the conservation /socialist coalition majority in the E.U. Parliament voted for an amendment of the 1997 directive. The amendments will give national Governments the power to introduce legislation requiring all telecommunications and network providers to retain information for law enforcement agencies to gain instant access to. In effect it is the end of privacy for telecommunication. Tony Bunyan: State Watch editor stated:

The rights of citizens to privacy and civil liberties. The people of Europe have had a fundamental right taken away from them, a right that will never be re-established. The retention of data and the potential surveillance of the telecommunications (phone-calls, e-mails, faxes and internet usage) of the whole population of Europe is yet another casualty of the "war against terrorism" and it is unlikely to be the last.

E.U. Parliament and socialist party member Elena Paciotti stated in response to a letter by the Coalition Against Data Retention, that all measures would be in accordance with the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights. Furthermore, Paciotti focuses on the idea that these amendments will safeguard the protection of data in the internal market. However the European Convention of Human Rights and community law automatically have to apply to all E.U. directives, so by making specific emphasis to this implies simple tactics to make it more appealing?

The directive "is giving the government monopoly on collecting data. ... It's allowing government massive power or ability to collect data on EU citizens," said Sonia Arrison, director for the Center of Technology Studies at the Pacific Research Institute.

For Internet familiars the new amendment will mean cookies cannot be placed on your computer without your prior permission and no more spamming will be permitted. (Cookies are Internet files that allow a site/company to keep a record of Internet activity) These cookies can be used as marketing tools as does the spamming of advertisements through various techniques used online, emails, personal instant messages, etc.

The US congress have sharply criticized the E.U. privacy laws stating ‘They will have global effects and will likely harm U.S. companies seeking to do online business’. Although the initial concept sounds indeed of protection in return for this the service provider will also retain information - this creates new risks for anyone using telecommunications; phone calls stored, who you communicate with, the duration and time of calls, exact mobile phone locations, internet passwords, private emails, chat rooms ids, file transfers, web pages/sites viewed, time and duration of any contact made online, records of credit card and banking details.

The UK have discussed logging and storing such information, and all internet traffic for up to seven years to increase police powers to intercept data. "Police may be able to get that data simply by authorizing themselves. Once the authorities have this data, they potentially have a map of both your private and business relationships and associations. There is really no restriction on how this data may be used or how long it may be kept." The guidelines have "a chilling affect on freedom of speech," said Cedric Laurant, policy fellow at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. In regards to data retention, "people will always fear that something they said may be used against them" for law enforcement purposes. (

Each E.U. nation will be left to devise its own particular legislation to deal with the amendment so it could be as long as five years or more before we see this enacted for E.U. wide usage. Ilka Schroder of the Green Party (Germany) stated this directive is ‘one more direction towards a police state.’

This is a direct consequence of this amendment; our individual privacy as E.U. citizens will no longer be the same. Again the rhetoric is spinning, mutterings of safeguards against terrorism. Strange as there alreadyexisted provision within the 1997 directive in cases involving state security.

Yet another draconian style power structure - an element becoming more frequent in government legislation on a global basis under a guise of protecting its citizens - it is fulfilling the demands of governments and law enforcement.

Surely Democracy, Freedom and our rights as people are what the E.U. Parliament should be striving to meet not fulfilling corporate government demands.



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We can chart our future clearly and wisely only when we know the path which has led to the present.
- Adlai Stevenson

Index: Current Articles

28 July 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Strategy of Threat

Anthony McIntyre


E.U. Surveillance of Telecommunications

Aine Fox


Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

Davy Carlin


Snap Shot
Sherry Maguire


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How the Peace Process Divided Ireland

Brendan O'Neill



Anthony McIntyre


Death Walks Our Streets Again

Davy Carlin


Uninvited Guests Become Neighbours
Sam Bahour


Two Notices from Anti-Fascist Action, Ireland


Moving Along
Brian Mór


The Belleek Solution
Brian Mór


Moving Statue

Brian Mór





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