Europarl protests against UK push for EU data retention
On Wednesday morning 13 July 2005 UK Home Secretary Charles Clarke met with the European Parliament Committee on Citizens’ Rights, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). His plan to push through data retention during the UK presidency of the European Council, no matter in what pillar, met with great protest. The Social-Democrats, the Greens and the Liberals all referred to the legal advices recommending the issue should be dealt with in the first pillar, i.e. on a directive proposal from the European Commission and with full co-decision from the European Parliament. The liberal rapporteur on data retention, Alexander Alvaro, perhaps used the strongest words when he said “the LIBE Committee was not to be pushed into blind obedience” by the UK.
The influential social-democrat vice-president of the committee, Stavros Lambrinidis, added some very sharp questions about the lack of proof of the effectiveness of biometrics, of ID cards and of data retention. He also questioned the intentions of the JHA Council to deal with data retention without the full democratic scrutiny. Clarke said it didn’t matter to him how the decision would be taken, as long as it was during the UK presidency, i.e. before 31 December 2005. He also explained he reached agreement with the European Commissioner for Justice, Frattini, to jointly work out a proposal that could be adopted within that timeframe. He didn’t explain how he would deal with a possible rejection by the European Parliament. The group coordinator from the Greens, Kathalijne Buitenweg, immediately reminded Clarke the Parliament would take the Council to court if they proceeded on the third pillar path.
Later, Clarke promised he would share any research into the costs and benefits of data retention with the parliament. So far, EDRI is only aware of two such documents; an analysis of the Dutch usage of traffic data by the police and a document prepared by the UK police. The latter document has not been made publicly available, but the first document hopelessly fails to prove the usefulness and benefits of data retention, given that the police could obtain the necessary data in ‘virtually’ all investigated files, without any legislation in the Netherlands on data retention. (See EDRI-gram 3.13).
During the European Commission press briefing in the afternoon of 13 July president Barroso said data retention was doubtlessly very important against terrorism, but it had to be based on the appropriate legal basis. Vice-commissioner Frattini explained that the Commission will present a directive proposal on data retention early in September 2005, based on the principles of availability and together with data protection rules about (law enforcement) access to data. Frattini confirmed the agreement with the UK presidency to present this proposal just before the informal JHA Council of 8 September, with the purpose of reaching agreement in the formal JHA Council of 12 October, and said he “was confident the package will be approved before the end of the year.” According to the press briefing from the extra JHA council in London on 13 July, all ministers agreed to adopt the framework decision in the meeting of 12 October 2005, thus making it clear they would proceed in the third pillar no matter what.
On 12 July European Digital Rights together with Privacy International sent an urgent letter to the UK presidency and Commissioners Frattini and Reding, urging them to show restraint and not respond to terrorism by endangering the very freedom and democracy these acts are aimed against. The letter was also sent to the EP members of the LIBE and ITRE (Industry) committees. EDRI felt the need to respond urgently after the comments made by mr Clarke in The Observer that data retention could have helped to prevent the attacks, thus pointing at large-scale data-mining on innocent peoples’ intimate communications behaviour.
The effectiveness of ubiquitous data retention is still completely unproven. On 13 July 2005 the Financial Times quoted a very sceptical remark from EuroCop. “The result would be that a vast effort is made with little more effect on criminals and terrorists than to slightly irritate them,” Heinz Kiefer, president of the European Confederation of Police, said recently.”
Provisional notes from the JHA Council (13.07.2005)
EDRI press release and letter (in English, French and Spanish, 12.07.2005)
Last UK prepared version of the JHA working document on data retention (29.06.2005)
EDRI-gram 3.13, Dutch study fails to prove usefulness data retention (29.06.2005)
FT, UK pushes emergency debate on internet data (13.07.2005)