Czechs Consider Reintroducing EU Data Retention Rules

Digital civil liberties groups in Europe are concerned that a controversial E.U. data retention law, which was voted unconstitutional in several countries, is about to be reintroduced in the Czech Republic.

The Data Retention Directive requires telephone companies and ISPs to store huge amounts of telecommunications information, including data about email, phone calls and text messages, for law enforcement purposes.

However in March 2011, the Czech constitutional court decided that operators did not need to store traffic and localization data on customers' electronic communications. The police can now only use data kept for other purposes, such as billing.

High courts in Germany, Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus, also ruled the directive unconstitutional over privacy concerns. But now the Czech Parliament is considering reintroducing across-the-board communications monitoring.

The move may be a reaction to the news last week that the European Commission has asked the European Court of Justice to fine Germany just over €315,000 (US$460 million) a day for failing to implement the directive.

Meanwhile privacy activists say that the Commission has not shown that blanket retention of data is necessary. According to data requested by privacy protection watchdog Luridicum Remedium (LuRe) from the Special Tasks Department of the Czech police, the Czech Republic detected an increase in the crime detection rate from 37.55 percent to 38.54 percent, despite a 10-fold drop in the number of requests for information.

"It is interesting that such a large drop in the number of requests had virtually no effect on the detection of crime," said Jan Voboril, a lawyer with LuRe in an email. "The police insist that data retention is more or less an essential tool, and limiting data retention has a major impact on police work, but the statistics contradict this. It is obvious that the police have sufficient tools for the investigation of crimes without global data retention related to the communications of all citizens."

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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