Europe’s Restrictive New Data Law

Matt Welch points to an IHT report that Europe is going well beyond some of the controversial measures of the USA PATRIOT act in an effort to combat the use of the Internet by terrorists.

The European Parliament on Wednesday passed an anti-terror law requiring Internet service providers and telephone companies in the 25-nation European Union to keep phone and Web site records on their customers for as long as two years. By a vote of 378 to 197, with 30 abstentions, European lawmakers meeting in Strasbourg passed what one privacy advocate opposed to the plan called “one of the most restrictive surveillance laws in the world,” exceeding the level of communications monitoring allowed in United States.

“The EU plans to fingerprint all of its citizens, monitor all communications transactions and surveil all movement and travel,” said Gus Hosein, a senior fellow at Privacy International, a London-based watchdog, and a visiting lecturer at the London School of Economics. “All these policies have been rejected by the U.S., but are now law in Europe.”


[Michael] Bartholomew [director of the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association] questioned the effectiveness and feasibility of the law in stopping terrorists, who could simply use U.S.-based e-mail services not subject to EU scrutiny. He also criticized the lack of any provision to reimburse operators for costs of data storage.


Proponents of the law said it would give European law enforcement officials a powerful weapon to track terrorists. The law would require phone operators to store data on completed calls, and Internet providers to log customer Web site visits, from six months to two years. Each EU member state, which must adopt the measure into local law before it can take effect, will determine how long data is kept. Only connected calls, e-mail exchanges and Web site visits will be recorded, not the content of individual conversations or e-mails

I’m afraid this is a typical example of people trying to regulate the Internet who do not understand it. As the Reuters report on the passage notes, this was despite findings of unfeasibility by the investigative committee:

Europe’s telecoms and Internet industries issued a joint statement saying the new rules raised major concerns about technical feasibility and proportionality. “This directive will impose a significant burden on the European e-communications industry, impacting on its competitiveness,” the statement said. The industry also said only 20 percent of e-mails would be covered since many service providers were outside the bloc.

The head of Germany’s data protection agency said the rules risked prying even in cases with no grounds for suspicion. “The room for manoeuvre provided in the directive must be used … to keep the intrusion on citizens as limited as possible,” Peter Schaar said in a statement.

It gets even scarier:

Law-enforcement authorities in the country where data is collected will have an automatic right to access it. Such authorities in countries outside of the European Union will have access if data-sharing agreements exist with the country in question.

The U.K. government, which is currently chairing E.U. meetings, made getting an agreement on the rules a priority following the London transportation bombings in July. Police and intelligence services used mobile phone records and closed-circuit TV footage to identify and track down suspected perpetrators of the attacks that killed 55 people. U.K. Home Secretary Charles Clarke said that Wednesday’s agreement sends a “powerful message that Europe is united against terrorism and organized crime.”

However, the new rules have come under fire from civil liberties campaigners. The new requirements are a “green light for mass surveillance, fishing expeditions and profiling,” said U.K. Liberal Democrat M.E.P. Sarah Ludford. “Real terrorists escape detection by using foreign Internet service providers like Hotmail and Yahoo, Internet cafes, and pay-as-you-go phones while ordinary citizens could find details of their movement, acquaintances and favorite Web sites circulating [among government officials],” she added.

The upshot, as with most counterterrorism measures, is more expense, more inconvenience, and less privacy with a negligible impact on terrorists.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    The upshot, as with most counterterrorism measures, is more expense, more inconvenience, and less privacy with a negligible impact on terrorists.

    Exactly right. Now, if only those silly Europeans would do something constructive, like invading Syria, none of that would be true.

    Compare the Iraq war. Expense? Check.

    Inconvenience? Check. (Especially for all those guys who used to have arms and legs.)

    Negligible impact on terrorists? Check.

    Less privacy? According to MSNBC, check:

    WASHINGTON – A year ago, at a Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, Fla., a small group of activists met to plan a protest of military recruiting at local high schools. What they didn’t know was that their meeting had come to the attention of the U.S. military.

    A secret 400-page Defense Department document obtained by NBC News lists the Lake Worth meeting as a “threat” and one of more than 1,500 “suspicious incidents” across the country over a recent 10-month period. * * *

    “This is incredible,” adds group member Rich Hersh. “It’s an example of paranoia by our government,” he says. “We’re not doing anything illegal.”

    The Defense Department document is the first inside look at how the U.S. military has stepped up intelligence collection inside this country since 9/11, which now includes the monitoring of peaceful anti-war and counter-military recruitment groups.

  2. Boyd says:

    Oh, it’s Thursday? That must mean that today the only reason we invaded Iraq is because President Bush believed that Hussein assisted in the 9/11 attacks.

    Tomorrow, we’ll be back to WMD as the sole reason.

    Weekends it’ll be the oillllll!

  3. LJD says:

    “…citizens could find details of their movement, acquaintances and favorite Web sites circulating [among government officials]”

    I would recommend not attending meetings of radical militants, not associating with terrorists, not looking at websites about how to make bombs…

    FWIW, folks who protest military recruiting are nothing more than misdirected peaceniks. Te military provides great opportunities for young people. If they don’t have the faith in their parenting ability, that their kids can make informed decisions about their future, then the military is the least of their worries.

  4. McGehee says:

    Boyd, didn’t you get the memo? Thursday has always been “Non-Sequitur in Response to Any News that Makes Bush Look Good” Day.

  5. anjin-san says:

    Heyyyy McGehee has fled to a new thread. Tell us again how salman pak proved al queda was in Iraq before the war dude. While you are at it, I still want you to prove I said Bush was AWOL.

    [Editor’s Note, November 2005: More than two years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, there has been no verification of Khodada’s account of the activities at Salman Pak. In fact, U.S. officials have now concluded that Salman Pak was most likely used to train Iraqi counter-terrorism units in anti-hijacking techniques. It should also be noted that he and other defectors interviewed for this report were brought to FRONTLINE’s attention by the Iraqi National Congress (INC), a dissident organization that was working to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Since the original broadcast, Khodada has not publicly addressed questions that have been raised about his account of activities at Salman Pak.]

  6. anjin-san says:

    Of course one of the opportunites the military provides under Bush is to be killed in a war over non-existant WMD’s.

    Can’t imagine a young person passing that up…

  7. McGehee says:

    Ooh! I’ve got a stalker! James, can I keep him?

  8. anjin-san says:

    Right McGhee, you are the one telling people I am “obsessed” with Bush being AWOL.

    Of course when asked, you can’t produce a single post where I said that. Conclusion, you are a liar.

    And I guess I have given you more attention then you deserve.

  9. Herb says:


    Your problem is that you have lived on the Left Coast for to long and are “just another Liberal’ Have you ever thought of serving on the 9th Federal Court. That would be right up your alley.

    Then your only problem would be that your decisions would be overturned every time.