EU to Force Telecoms to Keep Records

EU to Force Telecoms to Keep Records

The European Union agreed Wednesday to legally require telecommunications companies to keep records of their phone and e-mail traffic for at least a year as part of the bloc's anti-terrorist campaign.

The decision by the 25 EU justice ministers comes after years of European debate over the privacy and cost concerns of data retention. The ministers agreed phone companies must keep records for 12 months and Internet access providers must retain data on Web sites visited and e-mail addresses used for six months.

The EU's counterterrorism efforts began taking shape after the Sept. 11,

2001, attacks in the United States. Some have already been enacted.

The phone and Internet data retention bill took on added urgency after the July 7 suicide bombings in London that killed 52 people on the city's transit system.

British Home Secretary Charles Clarke, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said he was pushing hard for a European law by year's end.

He said it will happen with or without the backing of the European Parliament which has raised privacy concerns. Some of its members have spoken of "invasive measures."

The EU assembly's approval is crucial, however, if the measure is to be quickly enacted across Europe. Without it, the law would be much weaker and the EU's executive office would not be able to pressure countries that drag their heels in putting it into force.

Clarke said the legislation would be flexible and that countries may require data to be kept for more than a year. Italy and Ireland would be allowed to continue to require their telecommunications companies to keep traffic data for three and four years respectively as currently required by national laws there.

In recent months, the telecommunications industry has warned that keeping traffic data on record for a year or longer would cost millions of dollars, especially if the industry must also keep track of calls that received no answer. Law enforcement agencies are interested in those calls because they can set off remote bombs.

Clarke said it would be left up to individual nations to compensate the industry.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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