EUROPEAN ministers have agreed on plans that will force telecommunications companies
to retain phone and email logs for at least six months, to help investigations
into terrorism and other serious crimes.
"It is an essential tool for law enforcement," said British Home
Secretary Charles Clarke, who chaired the ministers' meeting.
He said the plans allowed governments to decide how long telecoms companies
in their nations should retain the data, as long as it was between six and 24
"We have agreed to a system which gives flexibility to member states who
want to go further," he said.
Ministers also agreed to a review procedure that could increase the amount
of material collected.
Mr Clarke said terrorist groups, drug dealers and people-trafficking gangs
would be targeted.
"If you can discover what the network is, who they communicate with, how
they operate, you can begin to make the connections - and that can make a very
big difference," he explained. He said he was optimistic the European Parliament
would adopt the bill this month - meaning it could come into force next year.
Ireland and Italy led opposition to the plan. They argued setting up new EU
legislation would contradict national laws that already go further.
The communications-tracking plan is among a number of priority measures EU
governments are pushing through in the wake of the July attacks on London that
killed 56 people, including four suicide bombers.
It will allow investigators to view logs of phone calls and email messages,
but will not allow them to view content of the messages.
Mr Clarke said the agreement left it up to national authorities to decide whether
telecoms companies should foot the bill for keeping such data, or be reimbursed
Ireland warned it would take the EU to court if it moved ahead with the proposal
as it stood.
Civil rights groups and many EU politicians warn the plan could violate personal
freedoms and privacy rules under EU law.